Garbage Day

by Matthew Tansek

My name is Ingrid Chalmers and I owned a piece of haunted jewellery. I wish I could tell you the circumstances that caused the beautiful silver pendant to be haunted, but there is no point in guessing. What I can tell you for certain is that I bought it from a vintage shop in town and that it was the most dazzling bit of silver that I had ever seen.

You see, I never believed much in ghosts or anything supernatural before I owned the terrible bit of wrought metal. But when I started seeing the faces in the darkness behind me whenever I would look into mirrors at night, well that was enough for me. I knew that I had to get rid of the thing and just think of the money spent as a lesson learned.

How I got rid of it, well that is the story I’m going to tell you now.

I had come home from work that Tuesday night, like normal, to my little house on Voleur Street. It was a quiet night, and honestly, the last thing on my mind at the time was that damned necklace. After I turned the TV on for company and started cooking myself some dinner I heard the floor creak upstairs, and I knew that the necklace was at it again. Creaking floors were how things usually began, and I could feel my blood pressure start to rise. My day had been a stressful one and I was in no mood. The long, drawn-out creak of the floor was like thunder to my ears. I toyed with the idea of just turning up the TV and trying to ignore it, but I knew that I would never be able to relax. Despite how beautiful I thought it was, despite having thought that I would be able to cope with some creepy spectre, or maybe recoup some of the cost if I tried to resell it, I knew then that I had to get rid of it. Be it haunted by a demon, a malevolent leprechaun, or my own imagination, the necklace had to go.

I turned off the stove and marched upstairs to the hall closet, where I had stashed the necklace, and pulled it from the drawer. The light above me blinked when I held it up, and the silver glistened as it always did, with incredible luster.

“To hell with you, this is the last night you terrorize me. Because do you know what night this is?” I said gripping the piece tightly in my fist, “It’s goddamn garbage night.”

In a flash, I had wheeled my garbage bin to the front yard and hurled that spooky thing into its filthy depths with a victorious flourish. By eight a.m. the following morning I would be listening to the screeching brakes of the waste management truck, and I would be rid of the mysterious thumps in the night, the figures in the corners of my eyes, and half-dreamed whispers that would bring me out of a sound sleep. I wondered why I hadn’t done it long ago.

As I stood in my front yard with a look of wild relief on my face my neighbour caught my attention. Old Mrs. Galloway waved to me from her adjacent driveway.

“Would you mind helping me with this, Sweetie?” she said, gesturing with an arthritic hand to a cinder block that sat on the grass near the end of her driveway. “You always have to make sure you weigh down the lids or who knows what’ll get in there. I have some blocks in the backyard if you want to do that same to yours.”

I smiled at her and helped her with the heavy concrete, all the while assuring her that such things were unnecessary. It surprised me that she honestly thought that here, in the quiet suburbs, something was going to get at her trash. I wondered where she had lived in her life that she learned to be so paranoid.

“You have a good night, Mrs. Galloway,” I said to her, watching her bent form make its way slowly up her steps and into her house.

I looked at my own trash bin then, and could not wait for the following morning, and the knowledge that the necklace would be gone from my life.

Three hours later I was in my pyjamas in front of the TV, winding down for the night when I heard the distinct sound of my trash bin falling over. I muted the TV and froze in place listening. I wondered if somehow the necklace was responsible, and was wishing my previous anger had driven me to more extreme methods of disposal.

I grabbed a flashlight, poked my head out of the side door, and looked down my driveway. A small, furry body rummaged through the contents of my overturned bin.

Well, holy shit, Mrs. Galloway had been right. A damned raccoon was going through the trash! I shuddered to think that I was going to have to touch the necklace again if it had been tipped out of the bin. I gritted my teeth and went out to scare off the critter and find something suitably heavy to make sure it stayed out.

It was only when I had gone halfway down the driveway that the animal realized I was there, and turned in my direction. The beam from my flashlight catching it square in the face. Glinting in the electric glow were three points of light – two reflective retinas, and the distinctive glint of silver that dangled haphazardly from around the raccoon’s head.

I shouted something incoherent and advanced on the animal. I hoped to scare it off and get it to drop the object that I had, just a few hours before, been so happy to get rid of. But the animal did not move. As I approached it crouched menacingly and an audible hiss escaped its tiny sharp-toothed mouth.

“Jesus, get out of here, you little shit!” I said batting the beam of light back and forth in front of myself and trying again to seem intimidating. But the creature did not run off, it hissed again in defiance and moved several paces toward me.

How was it that I had never realized how large raccoons were, or how menacing their little snarling mouths were, or how unsettlingly handlike their front paws seemed?

Fight or flight responses screamed in my head, and knowing that this animal probably had some sort of disease to act the way it did, I turned to run back into the safety of my house. Animal control could deal with this.

About when I had reached for the door handle is when I felt the sharp pain of razor-sharp little teeth dig into the back of my leg, and I screamed as I threw open the door. I whirled around, sending the flashlight smashing to the floor before I, with both hands, slammed the door shut so hard an explosion of glass rained down upon me as the upper window to the door burst apart. I could feel the little shards of glass sticking to my skin as I backed up, trying desperately – and far too late – to shield my eyes.

I cussed like a sailor, trying to get my mind around what had just happened, and glancing as well as I could through the broken aperture in the door at where the animal might have gone. I wished then I had just made a run for it because, shrieking like a banshee, the animal came hurtling through the broken window.

Agitated, hot panting breaths hit me. A flash of white teeth is all that I saw before I managed to get my arm up in time to stop it from clamping down on my throat. The weight of it sent me stumbling backward where I promptly tripped on the landing stairs and fell backward onto my ass in my kitchen.

Groping clawed hands tore at my arms as I heaved the thing from my body and scrambled to my feet. Sounds of hysteric rage and panic escaped my throat as I staggered to the countertop and pulled a knife from the block. I wheeled upon it just as it screamed again in its high-pitched voice, and then everything went black.

The lights in my house had gone out, and my ears were filled with the rattling and tinkling of what sounded like everything in my cupboards vibrating. Before I could think of what to do I felt the pain of its bite sinking deep into my right arm, and the weight of its body pulling down.

The knife fell from my hand as I frantically tore at its fur with my other, desperate to get it loose from my body. I could feel the flesh deep in my arm tearing as I finally managed to wrench it free, and then I was off. I had lived in that house for five years and my feet knew where all of the turns and furniture lay. A desperate black dash sent me vaulting upstairs to my bedroom and I slammed the door, pressing all of my weight against it.

My eyes searched for where my mobile phone would have laid charging next to the bed when I remembered I had left it next to the couch downstairs. Then my eyes turned to the bed, beneath which I knew I had stashed my grandfather’s service revolver.

I hadn’t fired a gun since I was a teenager, and even then it was a rifle and not a handgun. But I didn’t care, I was going to go down swinging. Before I knew it, I had dumped a baggie of bullets onto the floor and loaded the gun, feeling its considerable weight in my hand. My right arm had been pretty badly hurt, but I felt like if I was going to shoot anything it was going to have to be using my right hand.

I listened at the door, half-expecting to hear manic snarling on the other side, but instead heard nothing. I knew it must be waiting for me somewhere down there in my darkened house.

Hefting the window open, I stepped outside, onto the steep, shingled roof. I didn’t have any idea exactly how I was going to climb down to the ground and resolved to jump if need be and nurse my broken ankles when the time came.

Heights had never been something I particularly liked, but at the moment, with the thought of escape and safety coursing through my brain, I can tell you that I never once even thought of the height. Gripping hold of the attic vents I climbed up to the peak of the roof, keeping my body fully pressed against the rough grit as I went along.

It was when I had reached the peak of the gable on the other side of the house that I realized jumping was not going to be an option. The concrete driveway below threatened to crush me if I were to drop even from the lowest point. I screamed out for help to the darkened street, looking desperately for anyone else who might be out, for any merciful lights to be on in the surrounding houses.

I looked back toward the way I had come, for any route of escape, when I caught sight of the animal again. Its baleful eyes glinting from that banded face in the darkness, its hunched frame stalking toward me along the apex of the roof.

Without warning it surged forward, its back undulating in great bounding movements straight toward me. I screamed again, nearly toppling backward off of the roof, but doing my damndest to not lose my grip on the gun.

Its muscular body leaped toward me as I let loose with every bullet that the old revolver had in it, firing half-blind and off-balance.

Not a single bullet hit the animal.

But a single bullet did strike the dangling bit of silver just below its chin. And in a sparkling, thunderstruck burst, a hot wad of lead was driven through it.

A wavering cry came from the raccoon as it landed upon the roof before me. There was an odd, deafened moment where we seemed to just look at each other before it scampered in fright away from me.

I watched it go and wanted to roar at its retreat, but my voice made no sound. I clutched the roof, desperate not to fall, and looked back over the street that was now filled with lights and people timidly peeping from their windows and doors.

What people have made of the events of that night I can only guess, but I came away with a lesson worth remembering. If you’re going to throw out haunted jewellery, always make sure your trash can has a secure lid.

Matthew Tansek is a Detroit-based writer and librarian who loves to bring the excitement of speculative fiction to new audiences. After a decade of working with books, Matt knows what makes a good story- and it’s not five-dollar words or trendy subject matter. It’s compelling characters in evocative situations. Information about Matthew and his works can be found here.