(Horror stories about the dead.)
I was seventeen when I broke into the neighbor’s garage. I’d locked myself out of our house and it was pouring rain. My parents wouldn’t be home for hours. The neighbor, Louis Schaffer, had passed away two weeks before. It was a tough blow; he was a good friend of our family and used to babysit me when I was a toddler when my parents were working nights.
If it didn’t seem like a tornado might come through at any minute, I would’ve just sucked it up and walked the few miles back to school. The weather was worsening, though, and as hail started to fall, I knew I had to get inside.
Both the main garage door and the side door were locked tight. I ran around to the back. There was a window. The glass was blacked out. While I initially found that strange, my inquisitiveness dissipated as hail the size of ping-pong balls pelted my head.
I took a rock from his garden, felt a pang of preemptive guilt, then smashed out the bottom two panes. Being careful not to destroy any more than I had to, I pulled the wood out from between the open panes, checked for any remaining glass, and squeezed myself through the hole.
The garage was very, very dark. I’d never been in there before. Even with the dim light coming through the broken window, I had to feel along the wall to reach the light switch near the door. Thankfully, the power hadn’t gone out. I flipped the switch and light flickered as the old fluorescent bulb overhead blinked to life.
Wind howled and hail pummelled the roof. I dropped into a folding chair and tried to guess how much trouble I’d be in with my parents for breaking the window.
Looking around, I was impressed by how tidy the garage was. Not even a grease stain tarnished the immaculate concrete floor. Everything was organized on shelves and in cabinets with a degree of meticulousness I hadn’t expected of my former neighbor. He’d always stuck me as a bit of a slob, based on my memory of the mess of newspapers and dishes in his kitchen and den. Apparently not.
A shelving unit stood in the far corner near the window, holding some things I didn’t immediately recognize. I got up and walked over. Four metal blocks that looked like car batteries were lined up on the bottom shelf. There was some wiring coming from them, winding like ivy up and around the back of the shelf to a series of black cubes perched on the higher levels. Different wires sprouted from those, reaching to the top shelf, where they all plugged in to an old television. The top of the TV bristled with more antennae than I cared to count.
With the storm raging and my teenage boredom overtaking my concern for the broken window, I reached up and turned on the TV.
The garage… changed.
Gone were the gleaming concrete floors and clean surfaces. In their place were remnants of carnage; dried blood, gore-caked chains, and chunks of what I could only assume was rotting flesh. A video camera stood nearby, capturing the scene. I retched as the thick odor of putrefaction assailed my nostrils. I whirled to face the television. My dead neighbor stood in the middle of the room, methodically mopping up blood. He’d been recording himself.
In a panic, I changed the channel. Again, the garage around me shifted. This time, it was filled with fifty-five gallon drums, all leaking noxious sludge onto the floor. Yellow biohazard symbols were emblazoned on their sides, as if one needed another reason to stay away from them. I looked at the television. My neighbor was loading a body into one of the drums. I gasped.
I punched the power button and the garage returned to normal. The old CRT shut down, its screen dimming as the energy bled off.
“What’s happening?” I wondered, trying to catch my breath.
Outside, the hail continued to fall. I needed to get out of there. Still, my curiosity was overwhelming my desire to leave. I’d never seen anything like this before. What had Mr. Schaffer been up to?
Against my better judgement, I turned the TV on again. The fifty-five gallon drums returned. I changed the channel. The room filled with the carcasses of dead animals: squirrels, raccoons, birds, and even a dog. On screen, Mr. Schaffer was rooting around inside the body of a raccoon, his arms slick with bright blood.
A vague sense of recollection struck me. When I was little, I remembered going by Mr. Schaffer’s garage and smelling something awful. I even told my dad about it and he said a deer probably died nearby. At the time, I didn’t give it any further thought. Now, I wondered if I’d stumbled upon something without ever knowing.
The hail was tapering off. It looked lighter outside. I could probably go.
“Just one more,” I thought. “One more, then I can go back to school and tonight I’ll tell Mom and Dad what I found.”
With that, I changed the channel. The scene shifted. A tiny boy, maybe two years old at the most, was chained to a small chair wearing only a shirt. He was sobbing. An intense sensation of primal horror began to build inside me.
I forced myself to turn toward the TV. I didn’t want to. Everything inside me screamed and pleaded to push the shelf over and destroy it all. But I couldn’t. Not yet. My eyes met the screen.
A glance was all I needed. I shrieked and pulled the shelf and all the electronics onto the floor. With a series of sparks and a burst of smoke, everything returned to normal. Everything, that is, except me.
It was that one glance that changed me forever. That one glance showing the neighbor kneeling in front of the tiny chair and pulling off the boy’s shirt.
That one glance revealing the same birthmark I still have on my shoulder.