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.
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