December 17th, 2012
Author : Desmond Hussey, featured writer
The red ball ricochets down the corridor before careening off a table leg into the kitchen. A trio of giggling children is in hot pursuit, but when the ball rolls silently across the kitchen floor and slips through the slim gap of an open doorway their laughter turns to stunned silence. They stare mutely at the crack of inky blackness, listening to the ominous dull thuds as their precious ball bounces down the stairs into the basement’s gloomy depths.
“Go get it,” says the boy, shoving his kid sister forward. “You threw it.”
“No! You,” she squeals.
“Uh uh. Not me. No way.”
“Don’t be such scaredy cats,” teases the older sister, who’s nearly ten. “It’s just the basement. There’s nothin’ to be a’scared of.”
“Then you go,” the boy challenges.
“All right. I will,” the eldest says. Her façade of courage barely hides her trepidation. “House, lights on,” she commands, but the stairs remain shrouded in inky shadow. “Lights on!”
“Bulb must be out,” the boy says helpfully. “Maybe we should wait till Mom gets home.”
The little girl nods eagerly.
“Don’t be silly. Wait here.” The older girl runs off and returns shortly with a glo-ball. She deftly twists the top. The orb emits a soft yellow light as it lifts from her hands to hover near her head. “Follow me. Stay close.” She takes a tentative first step. The light pushes back the darkness, filling the three children with fragile confidence.
At the bottom of the creaky stairs they look around nervously for their missing ball, but all they can see in the gloom is a labyrinth of boxes and shelves with dusty bottles – long neglected treasures.
“Hey, what’s this?” The boy tugs at the edge of a canvas tarp covering something large in the corner. The tarp slips off and crumples into a pile on the floor, sending a cloud of dust motes dancing amid the dim light.
The children stare in awe at the mysterious object revealed. It’s like a large coffin, but with rounded edges and made out of opaque black glass. A row of buttons and dials is set neatly in the side. Next to some of the button are little windows with writing behind them.
“What do they say?” the littlest girl squeaks.
The senior sister peers closer. “Flying to the Moon”, she reads, “Spelunking the Caves of Mars. Hitch-hiking Across the Solar System.”
“Hey look!” the boy says, pointing. A tiny light pulses like an emerald heartbeat at the lower corner. “It’s a button!”
He pushes it.
Suddenly, a bluish light fills the glass chamber illuminating its ghastly contents. The little girl screams and clutches at her older sister’s leg. The boy stands transfixed, his lower lip trembling with terror. The eldest child’s eyes open wide in abject wonder. They’re all unsure whether to flee or stay.
Within the airless sarcophagus, a figure of an ancient man begins a jaunty, animatronic pantomime to a strange, playful melody. Its leathery face twitches in realistic parodies of expression as the body lurches in jerky, dance-like movements. The still elastic skin stretches tightly over metallic armatures. The macabre spectacle is both hilariously ghoulish and morbidly fascinating.
“Hello future kiddies!” the jaw waggles, “Gather close and listen to fascinating tales of long, long ago, told by your Grand-daddy Woodman in the flesh. Select from hundreds of stories of my adventures on Earth and Beyond the Starry Skies. Sit back and be amazed!”
Wrinkled skin morphs into a clownish rictus. The ancient thing waits patiently for its ancestor’s selection.