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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-one THE LODGE



he flowers for Sunday services sat in narrow plastic vases with Jesus stamped on the front in peeling gold leaf. The carnations were papery and smelled like refrigerated cabbages. Kyle brushed a vase with his shoulder and caught it before it hit the floor. He dropped his flashlight and it spun away, skittering into the darkness.

The Lodge was a long freestanding building next to the Methodist church. It was part storage, part Sunday school classroom, and part reception hall. It had an air of having once been possibly a barn or garage; poured concrete floors, various closets and rooms added and subtracted over the years, aluminum and plastic siding slapped on the outer walls and all painted the same cheerful Robin’s egg blue. The wood paneled walls were thin and warped in places, thatched with pieces of scotch tape, crepe paper, and gummy old balloons. The whole building smelled like greasy sugar; of butter cream frosting gone sour, flat beer and cigarette smoke, of fried onions caramelized to burnt and maple syrup, crystalline and dried from too many pancake breakfasts in the August heat.

Metal folding chairs hunched in a dark corner and a small, squat shape bubbled and hissed- a dented keg. Even in early December, the Lodge was muggy. The concrete floors were warm and damp, the long hallway like room airless and sticky. Kyle felt sweat start beading on the back of his neck. He checked his watch, his curfew was midnight and he was pushing it.

11:45pm. Candy should be here by now.

All of this felt wrong. There was a bowling alley, all neon and flashy where the jukebox played Madonna, George Michaels, and after midnight, rap music. There wasn’t a mall like in Middletown, but there was a big department store with a soda counter: Sullivan’s. Kyle should have agreed to meet her there, or at the movies. But Candy wanted to meet at the Lodge, said she wanted to be close to God when they talked about it. Kyle wanted to be somewhere well-lit and with people.

The kitchen was behind the counter and separated by two swinging doors, the porthole windows dark except for the soft orange glow from the overhead stove light. It wasn’t reassuring; to Kyle, it felt ominous like burning embers on dry tinder. He felt a sense of unease he couldn’t describe; a dark thing that slithered in him and writhed around his heart. He had felt it that night in the cemetery, too. It was all supposed to be a game; a ouija board, some candles, some swiped wine coolers. Him and Candy, Mikey and Shonda. They just wanted to scare the girls and fool around. Then that thing came out of the ground - big, and rotting and darker than shadows with eyes that were a sick, rheumy yellow and glowed like headlights in fog. Kyle didn’t remember anything after that, just those yellow eyes following him everywhere. And blood. All he could smell was blood. For weeks he tried and couldn’t remember anything. The cops found Shonda’s body in the river. Mikey was still missing.

He called out for Candy in a hushed whisper. A tiny scraping noise like bugs scurrying made him jump. The door to the boiler room was ajar and the scraping noise whispered up the stairs.

The boiler room and basement of the Lodge was the height of hillbilly engineering. The breeze way led straight into the basement and the door opened sideways into the stairwell. The hot water heater was tucked where the first step would be, and most of the congregation knew to straddle the heater and then swing their left leg down, while holding on to a utility shelf set in the opposite side of the stairwell.

Kyle opened the door and leaned into the empty darkness. He could hardly hear anything over the low rumble of the water heater and the faint scratching.

“Candy?” he called out in a stage whisper.

“Hurry up,” she called back. From the top of the stairs he could see the single bulb that lit the basement swinging idly.The scraping continued, whispers of sound: scuff, creak, scuff.

It sounded like her, but it didn’t sound like her. There was a gravel edged scrape to her words, like a shovel on tarmac. Then he smelled it: rot and sickness mixed with strawberries.

Candy’s shampoo.

Scuff. Scuff. Scuff.

Kyle swung down the staircase missing the last two steps and landing hard on the flagstones at the base of the stairs. He looked up and he saw her. Candy’s feet swung inches from the dirt floor; she had Mikey’s flannel shirt wrapped around her neck, so tight the soft fabric was cutting into the thin skin of her throat. Her eyes bulged, gluey and wet in the dimness, her lips stretched in a predatory grin. Her hands and feet twitched a spasmodic dance.

Panic slammed in his ears and he could feel her all over his skin, gritty and crawling like grave dirt. She twitched, an erratic pop of movement like someone was jerking the shirt. Raising her head, she looked at him with clouded yellow eyes.

He scrambled backwards, landing on his ass and then crab crawling to the stairs. A high animal shriek snapped off the walls and it wasn’t until Kyle was upstairs that he realized the sound was him.

He burst through the thin plywood door and out into the field behind the church. It was there, waiting for him. He could see its yellow eyes, smell the sickness and rot that rolled off of it. Behind it were two figures; young girls. He could see Shonda’s braid hanging limply over her shoulder in the bright winter moonlight.

He started screaming and didn’t stop, even after what was left of Mikey dragged itself towards him with its yellow eyes glowing. Even after it started biting, he kept screaming.




Megan J. Kaleita's short fiction has appeared in Juke Pop Serials and Luna Station Quarterly. She is currently between jobs and enjoying it more than she should, having spent much of her working years in various forms of public service. She is also the author of many unpublished works that are gathering digital dust on her hard drive. She has an MA in English that she still hasn’t paid off.

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