The Thing in the Garage
© 2021 - All rights reserved
Because sometimes a quick little horror story hits the spot.
”Aww, shit, Fred! I think it went under the car!”
“All right, all right, now, I think we got it. It’s in the grease pit. Gotta be. Get me that rake.”
Perl obliged, handing his buddy the garden rake that had hung untouched on the rusted 16-penny nail for as many years as the garage had stood. That was quite a few. At least now he had some use for it.
“All right, all right. Easy now. I’m gonna get around behind the car and scare it out. Open the door so it’ll leave when I do. Okay?”
Fred hefted the rake like some barbarian in one of those 1960s B-movies. He stalked, dramatically bow-legged, to the back of the old purple 1954 Buick that Perl had parked here three years ago as a fixer-upper. Despite repeated offers, Perl wouldn’t part with it. “Okay, all right, now. Are you ready?”
Perl pushed open the door next to the larger bay door. The big door hadn’t moved for almost as long as the Buick–the last time Perl tried to lift it, a giant spring had shot from its crossbar and left a dent in a nearby beam the size of a red potato, nearly killing Perl in the process. He had meant to get around to fixing the spring last summer.
The regular door seemed a pitifully small escape route for the thing under the car, but it would just have to do. Perl stepped over to the miniature junkyard of a worktable, a safe distance away. “Ready,” he said anxiously.
Fred bent down to peer under the Buick’s bumper, which had a worn sticker that said “Purple Puma,” and brandished the rake menacingly. “I don’t see nothing there, Perl. Shit. It’s gotta be there. Where else could it go?”
“I don’t know,” Perl helped.
“Maybe it went down the drain in the pit. Naw, `thing’s too big for that. It’s there all right. Gotta be.”
Perl bent down himself slightly to look (still at a good distance, though), but thought better of it. His hand found a Philip’s head screwdiver on the bench and he seized it. “Why don’t you go ahead and flush it out, Fred?
“I’m gettin’ to it, I’m gettin’ to it. Damn thing’s fast, that’s all. Want to make sure it’ll go for the door, you know. Shit.”
Fred placed one hand on the trunk of the car and leaned down closer to the floor for a better angle. The head of the rake was still a few inches in front of him, and he tested his knees a couple of times to make sure he could jump back quick if he had to.
The grease pit was a concrete ditch about three feet by six feet and maybe three deep. It sloped up away from Fred towards the door. Fred couldn’t see anything in the pit, but guessed that it was hiding against the side near him. “That’s a good ramp for you, fella,” he coaxed. “You just go up there. Ain’t no point in you jumping up at this rake. I’ll brain ya. That I will.”
“What are you doing, Fred?” Perl had moved one and a half steps from his previous strategic position.
“Gettin’ ready, that’s all. All right.” Fred inhaled deeply and braced himself. So did Perl.
Suddenly Fred let out a bellowing “Yaaaaaaaaa!” and rattled the rake between the floor and car bumper, creating a horrible din that sent Perl back to his original camp, screaming himself.
“Holy Jeez and Mary Joseph in a sewer, Fred! What the hell are you doing?” Perl’s feet tried to backscale against the wall. “Cut it out!”
Fred stopped and backed toward the rear wall of the garage, his foot catching on the remains of an old bicycle inner tube. “Did it go?” he yelled over Perl’s protests.
“Shit, I don’t know! I didn’t see it! Jeez, I thought you was gonna poke it or something. Shit.”
“It must’ve went,” Fred said with more hope than confidence. “It must’ve gone out the damn door.”
“I didn’t see it.”
“Of course you didn’t, asshole! You was too busy screamin’ and creamin’! It’s gone!”
“I think it’s still under there, Fred.”
“Okay, then, you look under your end of the car and I’ll look under my end of the car, and we should see it if it’s still there, okay?”
“It’ll come out at this end.”
Fred let the heavy end of the rake drop to the floor and wiped some debris from his nose. “It ain’t gonna come out your end `cause it ain’t there.”
“I think it’s still under there, Fred.”
Perl stepped toward the front of the car and held out the screwdiver.
“Chicken shit,” Fred offered.
Perl stood against the bay door about four feet from the grill of the Buick and slowly eased himself down onto his haunches. He dipped his head sideways and looked. “Too dark. I don’t see nothing.”
“There’s nothin’ to see, shithead. And it wouldn’t be too dark if you had something better than a friggin’ twenty-five watt bulb hangin’ there! Shit.”
“It’s sixty watts. And if you’d give back the mechanic’s light you borrowed we could see.”
“Well, whatever the frigg you got there, it ain’t no good. Get a flashlight.”
Perl stood and hitched up his jeans. “I got one in my truck,” he said. “I’ll get it.”
“Yeah, you do that.”
Fred dragged the rake behind him as he followed Perl to the door. “Hurry up, Perl. There’s a game on.”
Perl ambled a little faster toward his truck that was parked around on the other side of the house. Fred stood watching him. “Dumbshit,” he said to himself.
Fred dropped the rake and pulled his coat closed. Already November and he hadn’t got any of the leaves done yet. And it had rained for the past two days. Oh well. Let them rot. The overtime hours were more important right now, with Christmas coming up. Shit, poor Perl was living off his aunt’s savings from when the toilet paper plant had laid him off. Those Charmin bastards kept saying that “Consumer Demand” was down. Fred scratched his head. Even with his aunt’s help, Perl was slowly selling off what was his. He hated it, but what choice did the poor shit have? Fred turned and walked back to the rear of the car.
He had to admit it, though. Perl still had his garage and it was something else. Sure, it could use some cleaning up, but, hell, if he had a garage like this, he could do all kinds of shit in it. It could be a workroom for his bike, he could put a TV up in that corner there, hell, it could be a den. He could put a refrigerator in here and fill it with all the Pabst a man could drink. Of course, it needed some work. The plywood walls were cracking and sat loose on the foundation. The windows were cracked or boarded, mostly boarded. The roof sagged on the outside, but you couldn’t tell from here because of the loft. Hell, God knew what was up in that loft–scrap lumber, chicken wire, an old stove, boxes of miscellaneous washers and bolts and shit. It was a wonder it didn’t all come crashing down years ago. This winter for sure. The place needed sweeping out, especially under the two tables along the wall. Perl had wanted to store potatoes under one of the tables a few summers ago and ended up with a mushroom garden too. You got used to the smell of damp rot after a while.
The floor was pretty good, though. Perl bought his own concrete mix and designed the grease pit. He spent three days building the wooden frame for it so the concrete wouldn’t leak. The day Perl poured the stuff, Fred had promised to join him after he got off work. When he got there, Perl was already on his knees smoothing the 20 x 20 floor with a hand trowel. He wasn’t wearing knee pads. The chemicals and stuff in the mix had got to the skin through the holes in his pants and Perl spent a couple of days screaming while Fred poured peroxide and alcohol mixtures on it, trying to clean it out. Dumb shit.
“Okay, I got the light.” Perl stood in the door.
“All right. Have a look.”
Perl eased himself back against the bay door again and squatted.
He turned on the flashlight, which produced a faint beam. “I can see with it, anyhow.” Perl rested one hand on the floor and played the light into the pit. He edged closer to the car for a better look.
“Come on, Perl. The game’s on.”
“Just a minute. I can’t see all of it. It could be in the corner there. Just a minute.” Perl hung his head below the grill of the Buick as he peered into the shadows. “I can’t tell.”
“Perl, there’s nothin’ there, I’m tellin’ ya. I scared it out.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I don’t see it in there.”
But then Perl screamed and rolled back across the concrete, dropping the flashlight and flailing his arms, when Fred pounded the trunk with his hands and let loose an animal-like “Gyarrrr!”
“Jesus and Mary Joseph on a griddle, Fred! God damn it! You son of a bitch! What the friggin’ hell do you shittin’ think you’re God damn doin’?”
Fred spun about in triumph, pounding on the side of the car, laughing, and making the animal noise all at once. It was too good.
A gas can fell and rolled across the floor and something crashed against the box of spraypaint cans behind the portable air compressor near the workbench. Fred stopped laughing and leapt across the hood of the car, landing near Perl and scrambling for a purchase.
“Goddamn it, Fred, I told you! It’s still in here! Oh, goddamn it! We’re never gonna get it out!”
“Shit, poor Perl was living off his aunt’s savings from when the toilet paper plant had laid him off. Those Charmin bastards kept saying that ‘Consumer Demand’ was down.”
“Shut up a minute.” Fred stood with his legs apart and knees bent; his arms were held out from his sides like a wrestler’s. He pivoted to stand next to the door. “All right. All right. So the little sucker’s still in here. We’ll get him. You can bet your darlin’ ass.”
“How’d it get out from the pit? Weren’t you watchin’ it?” Perl’s voice cracked like it did when he asked MaryLou Bennet for a date when he was fifteen.
“Yeah, I was watchin’ it! Well, not the whole damn time, but for most of it! Shit! It couldn’t’ve got out from there!”
“Well it did, Fred, it did, `cause you weren’t watchin’ it. Jesus and Mary Joseph! Where do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. Behind that box, I think. No easy way to it. You could get the compressor out of the way and I’ll go get the rake.”
“Hell, no! I ain’t goin’ near it!”
“Shit, Perl! It’s just some goddamn animal is all. A `coon or something.”
“Ain’t no `coon move that fast, Fred. They just sort of waddle and bounce sort of. This thing moved. I ain’t goin’ near it.”
“You’d be surprised how fast they go when they want to. Hell, the thing’s probably more scared than you are. There’s just too damn many places to hide in here.”
“You move the compressor and I’ll use the rake.”
Fred grimaced but knew when he’d been beat. “Okay,” he said, “but get ready to use this thing.” He snatched the rake from where he’d left it and passed it over carefully, as if it might go off.
But he stopped. “No, wait. Shit. I got an idea. Look. I’ll get around on the other side of the car so it don’t run that way. You grab the air compressor and run it under the table to drive it out. That’ll leave it only one way to go–through the grease pit and out.”
Perl’s eyes narrowed as he recognized that left Fred with the weapon of choice after all. “Okay.”
“Shit `okay,’ it’s a plan!”
“It’s in a corner. You shouldn’t get near an animal in a corner.”
“Who are you? Merlin Perkins? Now go get it, man.”
Fred went the long way around the Buick and paused, pretending to check out a rust spot on the passenger door.
“Come on, come on,” Perl said, eager to end the job. He positioned himself near the compressor.
Fred stationed himself behind the car and lowered the rake like a hockey goalie. “Okay, send her to me.” His fingers twitched along the rake handle.
Perl inhaled deeply and grabbed the pushbar on the compressor. It was real heavy, but with a little lift he thought he could propel it on its two front wheels. “Ready?”
Perl saw something huddled behind the box and under the table. It was stocky. Round and hairy.
“Is it there? Get it, Perl!”
Perl crouched, amazed.
“Do you see it? What is it?” Fred asked.
“I don’t know. But it’s not a `coon, that’s for sure. Too big, and it’s the wrong color. I don’t know.”
Perl took a deep breath. He couldn’t believe he was going to do this. Quietly he said, “Eat this, you bastard.” He pushed the compressor with all his strength, sending it crashing into the spray paint can box and plowing under the worktable while smashing two of its supports. The table came crashing down, spilling coffee cans full of nails, Gerber baby jars of screws, a tire pump, ten different sizes of hinges, a box of old license plates, a smorgasbord of carpenter tools, and a fading picture of General Eisenhower. The crash went on and on while plugs and wire coils and drill bits and Allen wrenches tinkled and pinged across the concrete floor and over the lip of the grease pit and under Fred’s feet and into shadowed corners where they wouldn’t be found for a hundred years.
Perl cried out in dismay.
Fragments of potato and mushroom matter skittered from under the table and Perl heard something alive beneath it attempt to escape its fungoid tomb. The table itself cracked and split across the air compressor, and Perl could see movement through the debris. It let out a howl of some untold passion (Perl might say pain and Fred anger), and the table shifted as it made its escape. Both Perl and Fred had already fallen back and were prepared for full flight. Perl yelled and fell on a coffee can labeled “3/16s.” Fred hit some sawhorses and twisted around to steady himself. The thing under the table came up between the split pieces and scaled the wall. When it reached the ceiling, its claws found purchase on a thick wire and snapped it–
It was suddenly very dark.
”Aww, shit, Frehhhhdd!”
“Goddamn, who shut the goddamn door, Perl?”
“Frehhhhd, where is it?”
The bay door sounded like a great cannon as Fred’s body ran into it at full tilt.
“Frehhhhd!” A glass jar broke.
“Goddamn it, Perl, you shithead, you’re friggin’ gonna die for this, I’m tellin’ ya!”
“Fred, I can’t see!”
“Jesus and Mary Joseph on a stick!”
“Shut up a minute and listen for it!”
They were quiet. Glass crunched under a boot. Fred breathed. A scrap of something tapped against something else and then was silent. Perl’s ears buzzed. A drop of blood from Fred’s forehead pecked the floor. The Buick creaked when Perl used it for support and got to his feet. A flock of ducks passed over the roof, crawing and honking. Perl breathed too. On the next block a radio played “Takin’ Care of Business.” Dust settled. The bay door relaxed with a soft metallic snap. Lumber shifted overhead.
“Holy shit, Fred, it’s in the loft! It’s right above me, man!”
Perl ran as straight as he could. Fred turned to scramble for the door.
A low sound came from above, a brief gargling noise. Something wooden snapped and Fred heard the weight of the lumber piles shift toward the front of the garage. He still hadn’t found the doorknob.
Perl stumbled again and plowed into his buddy, nearly spilling them both.
“Goddamn it, you shit for brains! It’s above us both, now! Let me find the friggin’ door!” Fred found the knob and tugged; then he remembered and pushed. The cold and light of early evening greeted them and Fred nearly cried out with joy. They stumbled outside.
Fred caught his breath and looked at Perl. “Did you see it?”
Perl nodded, but he wasn’t at all sure just what he saw. “Did you?”
Fred shook his head. “Why don’t we just go in and watch the game? We’ll leave the door open and maybe it’ll leave. Okay?”
“I think it likes it in there.”
“Yeah, well, maybe. Let’s just see, okay? We’re not gonna get it out of that loft, that’s for damn sure. Especially not in the dark.”
Fred’s vision of a den with a new Trinitron TV faded before him and finally vanished with a small pop.
Perl stomped his feet. He was thinking about what he hadn’t really seen. He was thinking about the Charmin factory. “That’s my garage,” he said finally.
“Yeah, I know, Perl, but there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it right now. Come on, let’s go catch the rest of the game.”
“That’s my garage, Fred.”
“No one’s arguin’ with you, man. Come on.” Fred wiped the blood from the thin cut on his forehead.
Perl watched him and then looked back in the garage. He couldn’t even see the Buick. A faint glow turned out to be his flashlight still lying on the floor by the grease pit.
“Go on, Fred. I guess I want to finish up here.”
“What’re you talking about, asshole? We’re finished.”
“A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do,” Perl said.
“Oh, shit, you dumb ass shit for brains, don’t pull any of that John Wayne crap on me.”
“You go ahead.”
Fred shifted back and forth on his feet. The expression on his buddy’s face was a little scary. “Dammit, I’m gonna go inside where it’s warm and drink every goddamn beer I find in your refrigerator. What d’you think of that?”
“You go ahead.”
“What the hell are you gonna do?”
“I’m going to go up there and get it.”
Fred spat. “Goddamn loft won’t hold you, Perl, you know that. It’s just a dumb animal in a dumb garage. Big deal.”
Perl stepped back inside the doorway and looked up at the loft, no longer sure. He couldn’t see any of it but the lip at the front of the garage. On the left were a series of various sized retreads and a toboggan. The rest was a chaotic display of shadowy lumber piles, their ends splayed about just as they had been thrown up there over the years.
The ladder had fallen apart long ago. Perl recognized that the only way up would be to stand on the remaining worktable and boost himself.
Fred followed him silently and picked up the flashlight.
Perl walked over to the worktable and sized it up. He tested his weight on it.
“Oh, no, Perl, you can’t do that. That thing’ll rip you up.”
“Maybe.” Perl sat on the table.
“Shit. This is just dumb, Perl. Maybe we’ll call the zoo in the morning or something, okay?”
Perl pulled his feet up and crouched on the table. He shifted some things aside with his boots.
“Perl! What the hell are you doin’?”
Perl stood to full height, his head just under the level of the loft. “Damn thing’s still over my head,” he said. “Can’t have it there.”
Fred directed the dim light to Perl’s face. “Perl, now dammit, you probably can’t even get yourself up there, and if you could, it’ll all come down. Come on.”
The wood in the loft shifted again and there was the sound of something sharp scraping metal.
“You ain’t gonna be able to see nothing, Perl.”
Perl placed his hands on the lip of the loft and pulled a little. The loft sagged with his tugs.
“Look, Perl, I’m goin’ home, okay?”
Perl looked over at the broken crossbar for the bay door and then looked down at the Buick’s roof.
“All right. Look, Perl. You don’t use this old garage for anything, anyhow. Shit. That old Buick’s been sittin’ there for years, that damn potato pile stinks like hell, and there ain’t nothin’ in here you use. What’s the use?”
Perl didn’t move. “Maybe nothin’.”
Fred played the light up on the loft edge while Perl braced his hands more firmly. With a great heave, he pulled himself up and spread a forearm and elbow along the lip. He now swung free from the loft, which protested loudly. Fred stepped back.
Perl got his other elbow up and secured a better purchase. His head peered over the lip and into the dark.
“Do you see anything?”
“No,” Perl wheezed, “but it’s up here. I can hear it.”
“Aww, shit, Perl, get down, okay?”
“Give me a boost, Fred.”
“No. No way.” Fred’s face twisted and he began to breathe heavily.
“Come on, Fred, I can’t get up any further.” Perl tried to steady his swinging.
Fred moved over beneath his buddy and steadied him. “This sucks,” he said. He set down the light and gripped the bottoms of Perl’s boots.
Both were in almost complete darkness. It seemed the dim light coming in from the far door only made their corner darker.
“Give me a boost, Fred.”
Fred lifted, tensing as he pushed, and Perl went up over the lip quickly and disappeared into the black loft. There was silence except for the creaking beams.
A moment passed. “Aww, shit, Perl, what’s the use? Come on back.”
“Yeah.” Fred’s cheeks grew hot.
“Jesus Christ Almighty, Perl. Why’d I help you up there?”
A beam cracked.
Silence but for the sometime creaking of beams.