The creeps, p.13
The Creeps, p.13John Connolly
Sometimes, if you squeeze your eyes shut, and you think about good things, happy things—snowflakes, and fairies, and bluebirds singing—and picture your wish coming true, picture it like it’s happening in front of you right here and now, then the universe will find a way to make it come true.
This wasn’t one of those times.
Reality was fragmenting, and when reality fragments strange things happen.
The tentacled entity inside the closet wasn’t sure how it had got there, or how long it had been there, or even what a closet was. All it knew was that one minute it had been minding its own business in a quiet corner of the Multiverse, idly wondering which tentacle to use to feed a smaller creature into one of its many gaping mouths, and the next it had been squashed into a very small space with spiders crawling across its face. Because the space was so small, the entity was entirely unable to move, and so it had been trying to blow the spiders away with whichever one of its mouths was nearest. It had tried eating one of the spiders by catching it on its tongue and pulling it into its mouth, but the spider’s legs had caught in its teeth, which annoyed the entity greatly. The spider hadn’t tasted very nice either. Now the entity’s tentacles were starting to cramp, and it really needed to go to the toilet very badly, but it didn’t want to go to the toilet in the closet because it already smelled bad. In addition, the piece of its bodily equipment that it needed to get to in order to go to the toilet was currently squashed against one of its legs and the entity wasn’t sure what would happen if it just took a chance and decided to relieve itself. Frankly, it thought, that stuff could go anywhere.
Suddenly a light shone upon it. One of its heads peered from between a pair of crossed tentacles. Another peered from between its legs. A third popped out of the mouth of the first and squinted at the small figure before it.
Jolly stared at the entity for a couple of seconds, then closed the door. He scratched his chin. He nibbled a fingernail.
He called Angry over.
“What is it?” said Angry.
“Open that door,” said Jolly.
“Just open it.”
“Come on, for me.”
“No! I know what’s going to happen.”
“I bet you don’t.”
“I bet I do.”
“Go on, then. Tell me what’s going to happen.”
“I’ll open that door, and a broom will fall out and hit me on the head.”
“I promise you that won’t happen.”
“A mop, then.”
“I guarantee,” said Jolly, “that if you open that door, nothing will fall on your head.”
Angry raised a finger in warning.
“If anything falls on my head . . .”
“Because if it does, we’re going to have a disagreement.”
Jolly took a step back as Angry opened the door.
If the entity was surprised the first time that the door opened, it was better prepared on the second occasion. Jaws snapped. Tongues lolled. Tentacles squirmed ineffectually. It made a horrible sound somewhere between a gibbering howl and an echoing shriek.
Angry gave it a little nod and closed the door softly.
“Did you put that in there?” he asked Jolly.
“Yes,” said Jolly. “I’ve been keeping it as a pet, but I didn’t want to tell anyone because I thought they might make me hand it over to the zoo.”
“You can’t keep that as a pet,” said Angry, on whom sarcasm was sometimes lost. “You need a bigger hutch, for a start. It’s cruel keeping a—whatever that is—cooped up like that. I ought to report you.”
Jolly punched Angry on the arm.
“Of course I didn’t put it in there,” said Jolly. “I just opened the door and there it was.”
“Well, what’s it doing in that closet, then?”
“I don’t know!”
“I wonder how long it’s been in there?” said Angry.
From behind the door came what sounded like a sigh of relief, and liquid began pouring from inside the closet. Jolly and Angry took some quick steps back.
“Quite a while, I think,” said Jolly.
“We can’t just leave it there,” said Angry.
“We can’t take it with us,” said Jolly. “Did you see those teeth? Nasty, those teeth. Not the teeth of a vegetarian. Never met a bone they didn’t like, those teeth.”
On the wall nearby was an ancient blackboard. Fragments of dusty chalk lay on a shelf beside it. Angry picked up one of the pieces of chalk and wrote on the door. The writing was slightly uneven because Angry had to lean at an awkward angle to avoid the liquid that was still spilling from inside the closet.
“What’s it been drinking?” said Jolly. “If he doesn’t finish soon, we’ll drown.”
“There,” said Angry. He looked admiringly at his handiwork. On the door were now written the words
DO NOT OPEN!
“That should do it,” said Angry.
“Can I have that chalk?” said Jolly.
Angry handed it to him, and Jolly added one more word.
“Better,” said Angry. “Much better.”
He slipped the chalk into his pocket.
“Now let’s find Dan, just in case we need any more doors opened.”
In Which All Threats Begin with the Letter E
MEANWHILE, IN ANOTHER PART of the basement that should not have been very far away but, because of the strange things happening in the Multiverse, was now much farther away than before, Mumbles and Dozy had stumbled upon old Mr. Wreckit’s selection of unsold Nosferatu photographs. They came in all shapes and sizes, and while most simply lounged against the walls as though recovering from a heavy meal of blood and a long flight home on bat wings, others had been nailed to the walls, creating a gallery of vampiric figures.
Just in case you’d forgotten, or were not having trouble sleeping, some of them looked like this:
Dozy tapped Mumbles on the shoulder and pointed to the nearest picture.
“Your mum’s looking well,” he said.
Mumbles kicked him in the shin.
A lightbulb flickered above their heads, casting an unpleasantly sickly light on the faces that surrounded them. It also made them look distinctly alive. The depictions started to seem less like pictures and more like windows through which far too many vampires were peering. It made the dwarfs feel like walking blood banks, and toothy creatures were queuing up to make a withdrawal.
“It’s like the eyes follow you round the room,” said Dozy.
It was true. No matter where they stood, the gathered vampires kept a close watch on them.
“Unkebyem?” said Mumbles.
“I’ve no idea who’d buy one of those pictures and put it on his wall,” he said. “Except maybe your dad, to remind him of your mum.”
Mumbles kicked him in the shin again. The bulb above their head flickered one last time, then died.
“This isn’t doing us any good,” said Dozy. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I feel like we’ve been walking in this basement for hours. We must be under the sea by now.”
They trooped on, Dozy limping slightly from the repeated kicks to his shin, and Mumbles sulking in front of him.
“I like your mum,” said Dozy. “Seriously. You’re just lucky you got your looks from your dad.”
Mumbles turned to aim another boot in Dozy’s general direction, but he paused midkick.
“Hear what?” said Dozy.
Dozy listened. From the shadows behind came the sound of something landing on the floor. It didn’t sound like a big something, which was good. On the other hand, it was definitely a something, which was bad. The sound came again, and again, and again. Not a something, then, but lots of
Which was very bad.
“Rats?” said Dozy. They hadn’t seen any rats or mice yet, which he found odd. There were usually rodents in old basements.
Dozy listened harder.
“No,” he said. “That’s not the sound of claws. It’s more like soft fruit dropping on a floor. Maybe someone’s making jam.”
The two dwarfs faced the darkness. The sounds had stopped, but now there was movement in the gloom.
A small object rolled toward them and came to a halt a couple of inches from Dozy’s right foot. It looked up at him. It couldn’t do much else, since it was just an eyeball.
“Somebody will be missing that,” said Dozy.
Another eyeball rolled into view, and a third. Very soon, Mumbles and Dozy were looking down on a field of eyeballs. They were all slightly yellowed, and all very familiar, since the last time the dwarfs had seen them they had been lodged in the skulls of the vampiric pictures in the previous room.
I had to say it, thought Dozy. I had to say that the eyes seemed to follow you around the room. Mumbles had just the same reaction.
“I didn’t mean it literally,” said Dozy. “It’s not like I was hoping it would happen. All right, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to ignore them. After all, they’re eyeballs. What can they do, stare us to death? We’re going to turn around, continue our search, and pretend that they’re not there, agreed?”
Mumbles nodded. “Ooly.”
They each took a deep breath, spun on their heels, and started walking.
• • •
It turned out to be a lot harder than they had expected to ignore the eyeballs. Most of us, at some time or another, will have had the sensation that someone is staring at us. Our instinct is to find out who, and why, and make them stop doing it. If lots of people stare at us, we start wondering what might be wrong with us. Has our face turned a funny color? Do we have a bird on our head? Have we left something unzipped that shouldn’t be unzipped in public? Being stared at for any length of time is very unpleasant.
As Dozy was bringing up the rear he was more aware of the eyeballs than Mumbles. He felt hundreds of eyes boring into his back. He could hear them rolling along the dusty floor behind him. It was slowly driving him mad. Occasionally he would cast a glance over his shoulder and the eyeballs would stop moving. They would even stop staring at him for a while and suddenly find something interesting to look at on the ceiling or the walls. If they could, he was sure that they would have started whistling innocently, as if to say, “Don’t mind us, we’re not really following you, we just happen to be heading in the same direction.”
“Look—” Dozy began to say, then realized that (a) the eyeballs couldn’t do anything else and (b) what he actually wanted was for them to stop looking, so telling them to look wasn’t helpful.
“Listen—” he tried, but that wasn’t right either.
“Oh, just go away!” he said. “We don’t want any eyeballs. We have enough of our own. We only need two each. We’ve nowhere to put any more. We can’t keep you in our pockets. It would defeat the purpose.”
The eyeballs looked hurt, or as hurt as it was possible for disembodied eyeballs to look. The eyeballs peered at one another questioningly, then back at Dozy in a vaguely pleading manner.
“No, don’t try that with me,” said Dozy. “I mean it. You’ve had your fun, now go back to your pictures.”
He began walking again, but had taken only a few steps when he heard the wet rustling of eyeballs rolling, and felt them staring at his back again.
Dozy turned round in a fury.
“That’s it!” he said. “I’ve had it! For the last time, go back to your pictures!”
Just to be sure that they understood how angry he was, he stamped his foot hard on the floor. Something popped wetly under his heel, and there was the kind of squishing noise that only comes from standing on a round object that is mainly liquid and jelly held together by a thin membrane.
An eyeball, for example.
“Oops,” said Dozy.
He didn’t want to look down, but he didn’t have much choice. He lifted his foot and winced. He was no expert, but he was pretty certain that this particular eyeball’s days of staring at strangers had come to an end.
Mumbles came back to find out why Dozy had stopped walking, and told him not to worry: the bits of eyeball would clean off easily enough.
There was no way that the eyeballs could have heard him, thought Dozy. After all, they were just eyeballs. Even if they had, they probably couldn’t have understood him. Nevertheless, Mumbles’s words coincided with a burst of activity among the eyeballs. They began to vibrate. The red veins running across them expanded until the eyeballs were no longer big enough to contain them. They burst through the membrane of the eyes to form what to Dozy’s mind looked disturbingly like little legs. Each eyeball split beneath its retina to reveal a mouth filled with teeth. The two upper canines were longer than the rest, and needle sharp.
“Vampire eyeballs!” said Dozy. “Or eyeball vampires!”
Mumbles said nothing. He was too busy running away.
• • •
Meanwhile, in the Johnson house, Nurd and Wormwood were about to have problems of their own.
The window was now open, but so far the elf on the windowsill had not moved. Wormwood poked his head through the gap and peered down.
“Well, look at that,” he said.
“Look at what?” said Nurd.
He was still keeping a close eye on the elf. It was making him nervous.
“Elves,” said Wormwood. “Lots of ’em. It’s a pyramid of elves.”
Nurd climbed from his bunk and went to the window. He stuck his head out. Wormwood was right: there was a pyramid of elves under the window, each layer supporting the next until the topmost elf would be on the same level as the windowsill. But who would bother to build a pyramid of elves? Nurd twisted his head and tried to see if there was any sign of activity on the roof, but there was none.
“That’s quite unusual,” he said.
Wormwood poked the elf on the windowsill.
“You know what else is unusual?” he said.
“This elf. It’s made of wood, but it feels warm.”
Wormwood leaned back so that Nurd could test it for himself. Nurd reached out a clawed finger and jabbed at the elf’s nose.
“Now that you come to mention it—” he said, just as the elf’s mouth opened and bit Nurd’s finger. Nurd lifted his hand up to examine it more closely. The elf remained dangling from it.
“Er, Wormwood?” said Nurd.
Wormwood had poked his head out of the window again, and was admiring the elves.
“Aren’t they pretty?” he said.
“Wormwood, if you have a moment—”
Wormwood waved a stubby hand at the elf pyramid. “Hello, elves!”
All of the elves grinned at Wormwood. One or two even waved back.
Wormwood scratched his chin. He hadn’t expected that.
“You know,” he said, quickly pulling his head back in and turning to Nurd, “I could be wrong, but those elves may be alive.”
Nurd coughed and showed Wormwood his finger, now with added elf. He shook his hand in the hope of dislodging the elf, but the elf wasn’t going anywhere. The bell on the end of its hat tinkled.
“Does it hurt?” asked Wormwood.
“Would you like me to try to get it off?”
“That would be nice.”
Wormwood grabbed the elf by the legs and gave an experimental tug.
“It’s holding on very tight.”
“I know that, Wormwood. It is my finger that is involved.”
Wormwood pulled harder.
“Ow!” said Nurd. “Stop! That’s no good.”
“Try knocking it against the wall.”
Nurd did. On the third attempt, the e
“Nasty,” said Wormwood.
Nurd picked up the elf by one leg and stared at it. The elf struggled a bit, and tried to twist its body in order to bite Nurd again.
“Not very Christmas-y, is it?” said Wormwood.
“No,” said Nurd. “I suspect that if you found one of these in your Christmas stocking, you’d write a strongly worded letter to Santa Claus.”
There were noises from outside. The pyramid of elves, seemingly aware that the elf in the bedroom was now a captive, was trying to rearrange itself. One of the two elves who now formed the tip of the pyramid was trying to climb onto the windowsill with the aid of its colleague. The pyramid wobbled uncertainly.
“Wormwood,” said Nurd, “could you get the football from under your bunk, please?”
Wormwood did as he was asked. He handed the football to Nurd, who exchanged it for the elf. Nurd leaned out of the window.
“Oh, elves!” he called.
The elves looked up. Nurd raised his arms, and threw the football with as much force as he could muster.
The pyramid disintegrated, scattering elves and bits of elves over the front garden of the house.
“What about this one?” asked Wormwood, holding up the captive elf.
“Unless you’re planning to adopt it, I’d suggest you get rid of it.”
“I can’t throw it out the window! It doesn’t seem right.”
Wormwood had let the elf get a little too close to his face. It snapped at him, and missed the end of his nose by a finger’s width.
“Oh, all right, then,” said Wormwood. “Bye, elf.”
Out of the window it went. They watched it land in a thorn-bush. It managed to free itself with the help of some of its friends, and shook its little elf fist at Nurd and Wormwood. It then went into a huddle with the other elves. Nurd and Wormwood could hear them giggling. As they watched, more elves were trying the windows and the doors on the ground floor of the house. One of the brighter ones found a stone and threw it at the living room window, but the elf couldn’t send it high enough to hit the glass. Still, it had the right idea. Soon the elves would find a way inside, and then Nurd and Wormwood would be trapped.
The Creeps by John Connolly / Fantasy / Young Adult / Horror / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes