It's so cluttered in there I can never find my car . . . ye olde editor's lament whenever he goes into his garage

A WEIGHT TOO HEAVY TO BEAR
CHRISTA CARMEN ©2017

Something evil was in the garage. Jenny wasn't sure if it was a ghost, restless spirit, or rotting animal, all she knew was that something was in there.

Dagon knew it too. The redbone coonhound would not enter its vicinity, let alone the garage itself, without hackles raised, and the growls he emitted when confronted with the structure made the hairs on the back of Jenny's neck stand just as high.

It had been a week since Colleen had cleaned out the right side of the garage for Jenny, after Jenny had 'nagged' her about it for the better part of a year, and a day since Jenny's uneasiness led her to park in the driveway again. Col had woken up at her usual time of four-thirty PM after working the night shift at Electric Boat, a company that designed and built nuclear submarines for the United States Navy. Col had noticed Jenny's car parked in the driveway from the bathroom window not two minutes later, as she sat on their toilet with the cracked porcelain tank.

'Jen?" Colleen called.

Jenny emerged from the bedroom that used to be 'theirs,' and now was 'hers,' a purported result of conflicting sleep schedules during the week, and Colleen's snoring on the weekends. Colleen slept in the guest bedroom. "Yes?" She knew what was coming.

"Are you going out again tonight?"

She considered lying then thought, why bother ? "I'm not planning to."

"Then why isn't your car in the garage?" She stared at Jenny with an expectant gaze as she tied the drawstring of her sweatpants.

She didn't wash her hands , Jenny thought with disgust. Out loud, she said, "I don't know. It's not supposed to be cold tomorrow. I'm sure it will be fine." She was not sure what, exactly, she was saying would be fine. Her car? Their relationship? Her car?s ?check engine? light had recently come on, so she was zero for two in that respect.

"That's not the point, Jenny," Colleen said, hands on hips, combative.

Jenny didn't want to engage her further, but Colleen would keep pushing until she got the fight she was looking for. Jenny took the bait rather than prolong the inevitable.

"And what is the point, Colleen? That you did me a favor and I'm supposed to be grateful for all eternity? That because you cleaned out the garage, now it's a crime to park in the driveway?"

Colleen's face flushed. "You bitched and moaned from the day you moved in that you wanted me to clean out the other side of the garage! You said something about it every day for a year. A year, Jenny!?

"If I've been such an insufferable nag for a year, than why the hell did you propose to me? Tell me that, Colleen. Tell me why you asked me to marry you if I drive you so damn insane? Tell me!? Jenny spit this last sentence at her, then turned and ran down the stairs. She grabbed Dagon's leash and her jacket, and rummaged through her bag for her keys.

"We're going for a walk," Jenny called up. "I'll put my car in the garage when I get home, so you don't have to worry about me being ungrateful for the gift you've bestowed on me. I won't take advantage of it another night." She dragged the dog out the door and slammed it behind her before Colleen could answer.

Jenny pulled Dagon along under an already-darkening sky, her pace too fast for the hound to get in as much as a sniff. She hated how it got dark by five o'clock in the winter, though walking the dog tended to clear her head, and she enjoyed strolling through the quiet, upscale community at dusk when the houses were ablaze with Christmas lights. Despite the tranquility of the neighborhood, her anger swelled.

Colleen's constant need for Jenny to stroke her ego drove Jenny insane. They could have avoided the issue of who got to park in the garage if Col hadn't been so selfish in the first place. It was a two-car garage, and in the year since Jenny had moved in, and 'nagged' Colleen to clean out the right side for her, Colleen had parked her Subaru WRX, the Galaxy Blue Pearl paint buffed to a shine, on the opposite side. The Subaru was Colleen's second car, not the car she drove to work. Her commuter car was a beat-up Volvo with two-hundred thousand miles on it, so she benefitted little from not letting Jenny park her Jeep on the left. Colleen had still had to shovel out the Volvo when it snowed, while her precious Subaru sat warm and dry in its sacred annex.

And oh, had it snowed! The past winter had seen their small southern Rhode Island town record close to one-hundred inches of snowfall. As for the temperatures, they'd gone twenty-eight straight days with lows twenty degrees or colder, and February was the second-coldest February on record.

If Colleen wanted to call Jenny's persistency 'nagging,' well, could anyone blame Jenny? She'd begun resenting Colleen by the fifth snowfall. Jenny had busted her back and frozen her fingers for close to an hour in the still-dark mornings before work, struggling to unearth her vehicle from the solid trap of ice and snow that encased it. Once the struggle had been in vain, and She'd had to call her boss and beg to work from home in lieu of him docking her pay. She'd used up all her vacation time after she and Colleen had gotten engaged and gone to Mexico to celebrate.

Now, though it was mid-December, temperatures had gone below freezing on only two separate occasions, and most days it had been hovering in the fifties. Who says global warming isn't real , Jenny thought? Despite the mild weather, Jenny refused to let another snowy winter blindside her, and threatened Colleen with a promise to take the Subaru out of the garage herself and hide the keys if Colleen didn't empty Jenny's side. They'd fought, but Colleen had conceded, spooked into action at the thought of her baby outside, exposed to the elements.

Even faced with Jenny's threat, Colleen hadn't done the best of jobs in clearing the space. Colleen left workbenches from the previous tenant against the front and right walls, meaning Jenny could only open the front and back driver side doors, and neither of the passenger side ones. There was a smattering of other items the belonged to the original owners and which Colleen said she did not have the right to dispose of. But it was 'good enough,' Colleen had said.

'Good enough' seemed to be the premise of their relationship. In the beginning, Jenny had been happy, and she believed Colleen had been happy too. They'd been together three years before Jenny had moved into Colleen's place. But They'd gotten lazy, allowing the less pleasant sides of their personalities to engage, until their every interaction was strained. Still, Jenny was thirty, and Colleen, thirty-five. If they couldn't make this relationship work, there was PlentyOfFish and Tinder to look forward to. Jenny winced at the thought of an endless parade of blind dates, of putting in another four years with someone she met on the internet to get to the point she was at in her relationship with Colleen.

So Jenny stayed with Colleen, and nagged her about cleaning the garage, and then let her silly, childish fears keep her from using it, and Colleen stayed with Jenny, and made her feel guilty for nagging her about the garage, and would ridicule her if she discovered Jenny didn't want to park there because she thought it haunted.

Jenny and Dagon were back in the driveway. As they neared the rundown garage doors, Dagon pulled against the leash and let out a series of menacing barks.

"Dagon, knock it off!? She cried out as the nylon leash slid in her hand fast enough to burn her skin. "Ow! Dagon, come ON!? She managed to get a better grip and dragged the frenzied dog toward the house. He stood, hacking from the pull of the braided collar around his neck, on the front stoop. She opened the door and pushed him inside, then closed it and faced the walkway leading back to the dreaded enclosure.

The farmhouse that they rented had stood on one-and-a-half acres, overlooking the brackish river that flowed into the Atlantic Ocean, for a hundred years. Its age showed in the dilapidated porch and the musty, dirt-floored basement. But the garage, built in an age when the automobile was shorter and wider than the bodies of a today?s sedans, was a true relic.

The left wall of the structure was intricate stonework, but time and weather had worn holes in the grout wide enough for mice (and with any luck, not wide enough for rats), to pass through. The front and right walls were paneled wood; an outer layer had broken through in places, revealing a second, darker layer like skin peeled back from the muscle. Like the walls, the ceiling was wood paneling, only the boards were held up by beams running the length of the garage. Right above where Jenny parked, a panel between two beams had fallen out, replaced by a filthy canvas tarp.

More than once Jenny had wondered if the tarp would hold. The fear that She'd pull in and the whole ceiling would come crashing down on top of her, burying her car in debris, added to the sense of panic and claustrophobia that mounted each time she parked, before she could collect her belongings and run out of the garage. She also swore that each time she entered the garage the tarp was hanging an inch or two lower than it had been before, like something was weighing it down, exerting pressure on it that the tarp could not withstand indefinitely.

Beyond mere construction, the garage's contents were another source of apprehension. Rolls of chicken-coop wire, a rusty chainsaw, and a scythe were among the potential torture devices collected in the middle section of the garage. Every time Jenny failed in her desperate attempts to keep from looking at the scythe, her skin prickled with gooseflesh and a wave of panic flooded her brain and limbs.

The first night She'd parked in the garage, She'd found the left-side door open and walked through without hesitation. Confronted with the sinister collection of weapons, she jumped into her Jeep and almost backed into the garage door before she realized the right side was still shut. Even after She'd opened the door on her side without incident and calmed her breathing, it was hard to quell the wild desire to peel out of the garage and down the driveway and not stop until the cursed place vanished from her rearview mirror.

Trying to discount everything She'd seen and heard thus far, Jenny got within ten feet of the garage door before she stopped. There were neither floodlights in back of the house nor lights inside the garage. There wasn't even an electric hookup if They'd wanted to install lights. Worse, when she turned her headlights on inside the hateful place to make up for the lack of illumination, the left headlight caught the blade of the scythe, causing it to wink in the glow like a beacon from Hades. The two pinpoints of light focused on the wall in front of her seemed to make everywhere else in the garage all the blacker. If she waited to pull her car in any longer, She'd be without even the lingering haze of daylight to assist her.

She strode forward and bent down. The chipped paint and one broken window functioned to turn the garage's face into a leering skull, and she grabbed its tooth and pulled its mouth open as it shrieked in protest. Pausing just long enough to make sure the door didn't come crashing down (the extra second was worth not having to grip the cold handle again), she turned and ran to her Jeep. She forced a jog, but each thud of her sneakers on the pavement echoing in her ears was an invitation to sprint.

Jenny saw movement from the house before she could slide the key into the ignition. Colleen was watching her from the living room window; rage replaced Jenny's anxiety.

"This is all her fault," Jenny whispered. "If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have to park in that goddamn garage." She took her aggression out on the gear shift, backed up, and aimed for the black pit before her. She swerved too late to avoid the overgrown branch of a gnarled tree and its scratchy fingers dragged alongside the car as she prepared to pass into the stall. When she came to a stop in the dark, she realized She'd been holding her breath. The tense whoosh of air as she exhaled was the first sound she heard after turning the car off. The creak of the scythe swinging on its chain was the second.

Jenny sat frozen in the driver's seat. Behind her, the sun disappeared below the horizon, and shadows moved up and over the periphery of her mirrors to take its place. She had two choices: remain rooted in place until she blacked out in terror, or restart the car and back out the way She'd come in. Getting out of the car was not an option. As the scythe swung in the draftless room, a high-pitched keening reached Jenny's ears that she didn't recognize as having come from her own lips, followed by a far worse sound: footsteps.

"What the hell are you doing in there?" Colleen asked her, her voice muffled through the closed window. Colleen didn't stay long enough at the Jeep's side to see how pale Jenny's face was or to notice her hands shaking in her lap, but swung her keys around her own erect finger, and walked around the front of the Subaru.

"All right, don't answer me," Colleen said when she was about to get in and Jenny still hadn't replied. "I'm going to pick up pizza. Do you want anything?"

Aware of the sudden opportunity to escape the garage while in the presence of a flesh-and-blood person, Jenny jumped out of the Jeep and rushed into the winter night. She shut the door to keep whatever was in there from getting out, and when Colleen pulled out, Jenny shut her door too. Now that Colleen was back outside, Jenny gestured for her to roll her window down.

"Pizza's fine, thanks," Jenny said, not trusting herself to say more.

"Cool. See you in thirty," Colleen said.

Jenny gave the garage one final, fearful look, and headed up to the safety of the house.

***

They managed to get halfway through the pizza before a fight broke out. Jenny wasn't quite sure what had triggered it, but after forty minutes of going back and forth, she threw a half-eaten slice in the trash, took Dagon outside for the last time that night, and retired to 'her' room. She did not fall asleep until after Colleen had left for work, and when she did, she dreamed of hooded figures stalking her through an endless mist. Each time she thought She'd located the way out, she found herself pressed up against the unyielding barrier of a locked garage door.

Jenny's first thought upon waking was it would have been worth a worse argument to not be parked in the garage. Her dread in retrieving the Jeep was like a hangover; she felt sick over her decision of the night before, and wished she had not weakened in her resolve. She lingered over her makeup long enough to have to forgo breakfast. At ten minutes to six, she fastened the leash to Dagon's collar and slung her computer bag over her shoulder.

Jenny's parents lived five miles away, on the way to the tech company where Jenny worked. Rather than leave the dog at home, where Colleen would be sleeping all day and refused to set an alarm to take the dog out for a bathroom break, Jenny dropped Dagon with her parents, who were both retired, and partial to the coonhound.

Juggling the leash, travel mug of hot tea, and over-stuffed computer bag, Jenny waited for Dagon to do his business before beginning her shuddering trek to the garage.

Rounding the corner to where the garage became visible, Jenny yelped in surprise as Dagon darted forward. The computer bag slid off her shoulder, and the downward jerk on her forearm caused her to lose her grip on the to-go cup. The cup hit the ground in an explosion of over-steeped tea and soy milk as Dagon charged. Jenny yelled at him to stop.

Placing her bag on the pavement, out of reach of the spreading puddle, she set off to look for Dagon. Being a hound, Dagon was lacking in his off-leash recall skills. Her worry that he would follow his nose toward the main road surpassed her fear of the thing in the garage, at least for the moment.

She found him to the left of the looming edifice, whining and digging with frantic thrashes. He'd already pawed a hole leading under the garage a foot deep. She yanked on his leash and managed to pull him away from whatever had captured his attention, but as she made for her purse, his toenails scraped for purchase on the driveway. It would be fruitless to try to retrieve her bag with him in tow.

Jenny threw the garage door open and opened the back car door, tapping the dog's rump to cajole him into jumping onto the seat. Shutting the door, she ran for her bag, cursing the sun for taking its time in rising.

As she approached the garage again, she thought she heard her phone vibrating. That's funny , she thought. Who would call this early ? Throwing her purse in ahead of her, she realized her mistake after shutting the car door, and locking herself into the confinement of the metal box. She had a front row seat to the awful display about to begin.

The vibration was a low, guttural growl coming from the dog as he stared out the side window of the car at the surface of the work bench on the right. Atop the surface, a fat, greasy rat sat on its back haunches, gnawing on something in its front paws like a picnicker with an ear of corn. As Jenny watched in horror and Dagon continued to growl, the rat held the thing in its mouth and jumped from the workbench onto the hood of Jenny's car.

Jenny screamed and rammed backward on reflex, the upright driver's seat an unfortunate obstacle to flight. She began to search for her keys, going half-mad from the sound of the rat's claws on the hood of her car. With a realization that sunk her into despair, she looked into her rearview mirror and saw a metallic glint in the red glare of the car's automatic lights. She had dropped her keys in the chaos, couldn't even remembered having them in her hand during the juggling act. She was stuck once again in the hellish garage, held captive by her fear and revulsion. The vile rodent showed no sign of losing interest in the perusal of its treasure, using the hood of her Jeep as its breakfast buffet. And what was it that it was chewing on? Was that...why did it look like the slender bone of a human finger?

Necessity being the mother of invention, Jenny laid on the horn. The startled rat dropped its tidbit, began to retreat, then rethought its decision and turned back. Upon further, morbid scrutiny, Jenny knew the object couldn't be anything other than a human finger bone. Just having the rat out of sight made it easier to exit the vehicle, and Jenny sprinted for her keys, shaking them dry of tea on the return dash. She pulled out, slamming on the gas without a backward glance.

As for shutting the garage door behind her, well, keeping it shut hadn't kept the rats out, and she was starting to wonder if maybe it wasn't better to give the thing in the garage a chance to escape after all. At least it wouldn't be in there waiting for her every morning and subsequent evening.

Jenny turned the problem over in her head all day, ignoring the concerned looks of her coworkers and skipping lunch in order to leave a half hour early. She planned on waking Colleen up as soon as she got home and telling her in no uncertain terms that she would not be parking in the garage from that point forward. If Colleen wanted a fight, so be it. If she wanted Jenny's engagement ring back, she could have that too.

Driving back on No Bottom Pond Road, Jenny roared into the driveway and blew past the garage without wavering. She parked in a haphazard angle to the walkway and let herself into the house. She was up the stairs to the second floor and inside the guest bedroom (it was Col's room now, she might as well call a spade a spade) before Colleen woke up, and Jenny roused her with such force that Colleen cried out in alarm. When Colleen had gotten her bearings, her face darkened with rage at Jenny having disturbed her, and in preparation of the battle to come.

"What . . . the . . . hell, Jenny!? Colleen fumbled for her glasses with only the glow of the muted television to aid her. "I wanted to go to the gym tonight, and now I won't have gotten enough rest to get a good workout in!?

"Would you give it up, Col? You'll be fine. You've slept seven hours already."

"Easy for you to say. You get to sleep at night, like a normal person. Your schedule isn't in constant upheaval and you don't need blackout curtains just to catch a few z?s! Now, would you care to tell me the earth-shattering reason you've woken me up on this crappy winter afternoon?"

"I'm not parking in the garage anymore." She let the sentence hang between them without context or explanation, waiting for Colleen's reaction.

Colleen began to laugh.

"This is a joke, right? I mean, you?re trying to piss me off by playing some stupid joke on me, is that it?"

"it's not a joke, Col. I'm not parking in the garage anymore. There's something in there. I don't know what it is, but it's something bad."

Colleen looked at Jenny with undisguised scorn. "Like, you?re saying it's haunted? Instead of a haunted house, we have a haunted garage? Did Jacob Marley's ghost come out of the wall and rattle his chains at you? Did you see Elvis? What was it exactly?"

"I knew you?d be an asshole about it. What I don't know is why I'm surprised. The thing is, there is something in the garage. And if you cared about me, if you loved me, you?d respect my decision to stay out of there, whether you believed me or not."

Colleen's mouth opened and closed like a fish dropped on a dry dock. Jenny continued before Colleen could morph the futile movements into words.

"I'm going to my parents for the evening. I need to think. We both need to think. it's your last night of work for the week, so just get through tonight?s shift, and we'll reconvene. I think if you?re honest with yourself, you have to admit that we've been growing apart. We've?"

Colleen held her hand up in front of Jenny's face. Startled, Jenny aborted her speech.

"Fine, Jenny. You go to your parents to think. Maybe you're right. Maybe we do have some decisions to make. But before you go, tell me...why do you think there's something in the garage?"

Jenny spent the next five minutes trying to describe the events of the past week. Colleen listened without interrupting, and when Jenny was done she did not ask her to elaborate, and she did not ridicule her any further.

"I'm going to head over before they make plans for dinner," Jenny said, and went to the armoire for a sweater.

"What time will you be back,?" Colleen asked. The tone She'd enacted was casual to a suspicious degree.

"I'm not sure. Not late. Does it matter?"

"No, I suppose it doesn't," Colleen replied.

***

When Jenny returned from visiting her parents at ten o'clock, Dagon in tow and on his best behavior as a result of not having been subjected to the forces of the garage, she was shocked to see Colleen's Volvo still in the driveway. Figuring She'd taken the Subaru to show off to the rookies at work, hoping she hadn't called in sick, Jenny walked into the house just as Colleen was walking out.

"You're still here,?" Jenny said.

"Yeah, I fell back asleep and was running late." Colleen shrugged into a flannel jacket. "How were your parents?" she asked.

Wary of the niceties but not wanting to be the bad-tempered party, Jenny told her they were fine.

"Has Dagon done his business for the night? Here, give him to me. I'll take him out while you start getting ready for bed."

?You?re going to be late,? Jenny pointed out.

"it's fine. I feel bad to be honest. Come on, give him here."

Jenny handed Colleen the end of the leash. She went to the kitchen for a glass of water. When Colleen poked her head in to let Dagon back inside, Jenny was already on her way up the stairs to brush her teeth and get into bed.

"Thanks," Jenny called down to her from the top step, feeling guilty about earlier.

"No problem," she returned. "Have a good night."

Jenny was asleep three minutes after her head hit the pillow, but Dagon stayed up long into the night, cocking his head in the darkness at the sounds coming from the garage until he too, grew tired. The muscular, reddish-brown dog laid his head down on Jenny's ankles, and both were accosted by nightmares until the alarm summoned them awake.

She hit the snooze button a few too many times, but the next morning Jenny had a lighter heart and a spring in her step. She was glad She'd been straight with Col; if that meant the end of their relationship, she could accept that. However, Colleen's behavior when Jenny had gotten home last night was encouraging. Maybe They'd come out of this stronger than before.

She decided against making a cup of tea to take with her; she was aiming to make her morning more laidback, and even without having to maneuver the dog and her belongings into that horrible garage, it would eliminate some unnecessary stress. As she went to leave the house she hummed to herself, and ruffled the fur on Dagon's head as she unhooked her keys.

Her car wasn't in the driveway. It only took Jenny a second to figure out what had happened. "That bitch," she whispered. Tears stung her eyes and threatened to breach the opposing barriers of mascara and eyeliner.

Colleen had only offered to walk Dagon the night before so she could move Jenny's car into the garage. She must have snuck Jenny's keys off the wall when she returned Dagon to the house and by the time She'd replaced them, Jenny had been in the upstairs bathroom brushing her teeth. Colleen's attempts at civility, the kind gesture, it had all been a cover for her true intent.

Jenny was in the garage before her mind could convince her otherwise, and she was alone. Dagon would stay in the house until her father could pick him up later that morning, but for now, she had to face the garage herself.

The pitch black void, the bone-gnawing rats, the rotted wood trapping secrets behind their panels, these things still terrified Jenny, and she had been willing to let her fear of them conquer her. But Col; She would not let her win.

Jenny got behind the wheel of her car and flicked the headlights on. As she turned the key in the ignition, the scythe swung like a pendulum. Something stirred in a hole in the stones to her left. She pulled the shift down, and hit the gas. The car was not in reverse.

When her Jeep hit the front wall of the garage, the tarp suspended between the ceiling beams relinquished its century-long hold in an explosion of dust and decay. The corpse was that of the farmer's wife, murdered by her husband and his lover and boarded up in the garage's ceiling in 1908, not long after the farm had been built. It had been reduced to a skeleton long ago, but rats had found the bones in the tarp a superior place for a nest.

The detritus of generations of these rats, together with the skeleton of the farmer's wife and several heavy plywood boards, shattered Jenny's windshield on impact. The broken glass left no barrier to the sound of Jenny's scream, but she wasn't able to keep her mouth open for long after the front seat of her Jeep became the final resting place for the farmer's wife's tomb, and accompanying remains.

***

Jenny pushed the car to well above the speed limit, and reached over to where Dagon sat on the leather passenger seat. She stroked the dog's soft ears and hummed to herself. Galaxy Blue Pearl would not have been her first choice in color, but it was growing on her. She wiped a smudge of dust off her arm and turned the radio up. The Subaru was lighter than her Jeep and on the open highway, it felt positively weightless.

x x x

Christa Carmen's November's story ends this year's chosen tales. I receivd far fewer submissions this year, but still lacked one to make up a full compliment. Look for a story from me to round out 2017. Meanwhile, if you will, review this year's offerings and see if you can find a 'theme.' Let me know if you notice anything different about the choices this year. And, if you do, tell me how you feel about it in our BBS. - GM



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