THE HATCH IN THE WALL
by ALEX FRIEDMAN
I clearly remember why my mother and I moved away from the house of my childhood. There, I could tell it was winter when I would awaken to sleet dropping from the gutters above my bedroom window, slopping down like ladle servings of cafeteria potato. That sound was welcome in my drafty bedroom. It meant the night was over. Saint Gregory, my mother's Doberman, used to sleep at the foot of my bed. It was a habit he had picked up while I was bedridden with pneumonia at age eight.
The year I turned nine, around Christmas, was when Saint Gregory noticed the problem with the hatch in the wall. The thin wooden door opened from the far corner of my bedroom and led to a dank crawl-space. It may have extended under the entire house. I never dared to find out.
Animals, mice or squirrels usually, would sometimes find their way in through that hatch. It frightened me to think how many vermin must have crept through the dark unnoticed, scheming and thieving, before Saint Gregory began sleeping in my room. Now and then I would wake up in the night to a low growl and the clack of dulled claws lunging to the wooden floor. I hid under the covers. A moment later, my mother would rush in and take the mangled, chewed rodent to the trash bin at the back door. From beneath my blankets, I'd hear Saint Gregory lick his chops and then the bed would creak as he resumed his post.
The week before Christmas, my mother took me and Saint Gregory on an overnight trip to Grandma Gabby's house. She was our only family in the States. When we returned, the house was a wreck. Food was eaten and spilled in the kitchen. Our bathroom towels were torn into strips. The toothpaste tube was covered in tiny bite marks. My mother's jewelry was scattered across her vanity. There were dirty, three-taloned prints on my bedroom floor leading from the hatch. The dinner knives were missing.
"Raccoons," she said.
She nailed the hatch shut.
That night, I heard Saint Gregory growl at a tapping in the dark. I pulled the blankets over my head. It sounded like a stone beating against the nails in the hatch. Saint Gregory's growl grew deeper. I wanted to shout for my mother, but I the noise wouldn't come. I didn't even dare to peek out from under the covers. I felt that if I pretended to sleep and remained very still, nothing would get me. The tapping stopped. There was a slow creak as the hatch door lifted. Saint Gregory snarled and he clattered to the wooden floor. Something snapped and there was a shriek. My mother burst into the room and flipped the light on. She screamed. I looked out from under the covers. Her face was contorted with terror. Saint Gregory's ear was torn and there was blood all over the floor. Dangling from Saint Gregory's mouth was a tiny feathered arm with three fingers. It clutched a kitchen knife.
The hatch door was broken and hanging to the side. Dozens of tiny, glinting eyes watched me from within the hatch and then scattered into the darkness beneath the house.
Alex Friedman was described in a eulogy as a fictitious character created as part of an elaborate hoax. He writes, works, and studies at Miami University.
The authors published at HelloHorror retain all rights to their work. For permission to quote from a particular piece, or to reprint, contact the editors who will forward the request. All content on the web site is protected under copyright law.