• Robert Stahl

Fiction: Family Time

Photo Source: Pixnio


“There’s been an accident,” Peter’s mother said over the phone. “Your father’s banged up pretty good, so I’m going to sit with him here at the hospital. You’re going to have to stay at Nana’s tonight.”


Peter gulped. “Here?” Through the room’s only window, a flash of lightning illuminated the downpour outside. He crossed the cramped, musty room and cupped a hand over the mouthpiece. “At the old folks home?


“It’s not ideal, I know,” his mother said. “But the administrator says it’s okay, just for tonight.”


“But mom…” He looked over at the couch, where his grandmother sat. She was staring blankly into a corner and gesturing with her hands, as if she were summoning up an ancient demon. “Nana smells funny.”


“Oh, Peter, grow up. You’re twelve now, almost a man. It’s your Nana, for Christ’s sake. Think of it as family time.”


Maybe he had loved his Nana, at one time. But she had taken a turn for the worse lately. There’d been rumors that she had become obsessed with the occult in her old age. And she’d started doing bizarre things. Like babbling in a strange tongue that he’d never heard before. He didn’t know much about other languages, but it sounded vaguely like Latin. It freaked him out just to look at her. Her skeletal limbs. The mole on her chin, like a giant, hanging tick. The shock of untamable white hair that made her seem kind of witchy.


What he wanted to say was: You’re crazy. I’m not doing it. No way, no how.


But he knew better than to argue. They’d just moved to Arkansas with his father’s new job, so there were no other relatives to watch him. Of course, he would have to stay with Nana.


So he did his best to sound brave. “Okay. Tell dad I asked about him.”


Over on the couch, Nana had pulled a prune from one of the pockets of her nightgown. She slurped it at her fingertips like a hungry cannibal feasting on a human heart. Amazing, he’d never noticed how large her mouth was, as if she could swallow her entire hand, python-like. Purple drool dribbled down her fingers and into her lap.


Why had he let his parents convince him it was a good idea to visit Nana while they went out for the evening? Then there was the weird storm that had blown in from out of nowhere. He wished they had listened when he said it was probably best to turn around and go home. Now he’d be stuck there all night.


“You’re all mine now, dearie,” Nana said, stroking the cushion beside her.


Peter begrudgingly joined her on the couch. She reached out and clamped her hand down over his. The skin felt papery, like it would tear at any moment, but her muscles were surprisingly strong. He looked down. Her hand, with her long, yellowed fingernails and bony fingers, looked like a claw.


They watched a disturbing documentary about uncaptured serial killers. Nana cackled at inappropriate moments, which made him squirm. Down the hallway, an old man was screaming for his sweet, sweet kitty.


When it was time to sleep, Peter took over the couch. The snoring started as soon as Nana crawled into her tiny bed: a choking, wet sound like a soon-to-be corpse gasping for a final breath of air. Peter listened to the rain’s assault on the roof. He stared at the clock for at least two hours, before finally drifting off. He opened his eyes to the sounds of Nana calling out: “Horace! Is that you, Horace?”


Horace was the name of Peter’s grandfather.


He’d died three years before Peter had been born.


It was going to be a long night.


#


A creaking door woke Peter later, and he heard someone shuffling in the hallway.


He sat up, listening. The only other sound was the rain’s relentless barrage on the roof. His eyes adjusted to the dim light of the room.


Nana’s bed was empty.


His heart rate ratcheted up, as he crept to the open door, and peeped out into the long, dark hallway.


At the far end, he caught the flash of a leg disappearing around the corner. The leg appeared to be draped in Nana’s nightgown.


“Nana?” he called, making his way down the hallway.


Every door he passed was open. The residents inside were missing.


Thunder boomed outside. The hallway lights flickered.


He turned the corner into the recreation room, and reeled.


A metallic pile of crutches, wheelchairs and walkers had been shoved into one corner, and a chaotic mess of pajamas, robes, and nightshirts littered the floor.


In the middle of the room, an enormous mound of a monster towered. The residents were all here, fused into one giant organism. Ancient faces stared out from a tangle of bony arms and legs.


“We’ve been expecting you,” said a croaking, hideous voice. Nana’s?


Peter turned to run.


The blob lurched after him, slapping its many limbs against the linoleum floor. Peter was quicker. He reached the front door, pulled it open.


Lightning crashed, revealing two figures. His mother, looking very unhappy. And his father, whole and without injury.


“D-dad?” Peter said.


“Sorry to lie to you, sport,” his father said.


“Poor boy,” his mother continued. “Every few generations a sacrifice must be made. It’s the flesh of the youth that keeps us young, forever.”


If he could just make it past them… He flung himself against their bodies, but they were stronger and held him fast.


Behind him, the organism advanced. “It’s family time,” the Nana-thing said.


Dozens of claw-like hands scratched into the flesh on his arms, his legs, pulling him as he slid across the floor, scrambling, straining, and fighting, but drawing closer, ever closer to the blob’s enormous waiting mouth.



Unbeknownst to Robert Stahl, his body is an empty shell, telepathically controlled by a brain in a jar, which was buried long ago under the floorboard of his home in Dallas. Consequently, his days are filled with the urge to write: stories, letters, articles, whatever. At night he listens to music and when he drifts off to sleep, the brain laughs, a humorless, pitiful sound, as it jiggles alone in the dusty darkness.


If you want to learn more about Robert Stahl, you can check out his writing page here.