|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
If It Don't Show...
Damn, it was hot. Jerry stopped for a minute and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Scraping off century-old shingles was a real bitch of a job, but the money would make up for it all. The poor suckers who bought this Victorian nightmare had told him to do whatever was needed. It was almost too perfect. The house was on a huge wooded lot, far from prying eyes. And his customers were gone until Monday.
He prodded some exposed wood and smirked. One advantage of being five stories up was that nobody could see what he really did. The planks underneath were bad in several spots, but he didn't plan on replacing anything. Oh, there'd be plenty of rotten wood and lumber scraps on the ground when the people came back, courtesy of the last roof he'd done. With the invoices from the same job, he'd be able to tack on a couple thousand dollars. Hell, they'd probably think they were getting a bargain.
"If it don't show, it don't go." Jerry grinned to himself. That motto didn't appear on his business cards, but it sure bumped up his profits. The new tar paper would hold back the leaks for a couple of years. By then, he'd have either changed the business name or moved on. It was almost comical. The professional lettering on the truck and his cellular phone always impressed the customers. And when the complaints started to come in, all he had to do was make a quick trip to the paint shop and buy another phone.
Still, if he was going to pull this off, the tar paper'd have to be on before tomorrow night. That meant getting the rest of the old shingles off. He grabbed the shovel and climbed up to the cap. The house was built real weird, with turrets at both ends and two peaks. There was a big flat section between the peaks that didn't show from the ground. Not part of the original house, but he'd bet a year's supply of beer that the "new" section was a good eighty years old.
After making sure that the rope was still secure around the chimney, he climbed down to the center. From here he could see that the roof wasn't really flat. It sloped towards the back slightly, to allow water runoff. Probably find a lot of bad rot here, though.
He used the shovel to test the surface, and then stepped gingerly onto the flat area. It felt a little soft, but seemed to hold OK. Might as well see what was under this mess. He jammed the shovel under the outer layer, and kicked. There was a soft splintering sound, and he had time for a quick "Aw, shit!" before he dropped through the roof.
Jesus. Jerry opened his eyes and squinted against the sunlight which glared through the ragged hole above. It felt like somebody had whacked him with a two-by-four, and his gut hurt. The so-called safety rope was cinched tight around his waist, and he had to thrust fingers under it to pull the slip-knot loose. The line hung limply from the hole above, and he tugged at it instinctively. The rest of the rope slithered down from above, followed by the still-intact loop which he'd tied around the chimney. The damn thing must have broken off when he fell. Good thing he hadn't fallen to the ground.
Exploring fingers found a large and very tender bruise on the back of his head. Nothing seemed broken, but he had a couple of painful scrapes on his arms. God damned rat-trap. This was gonna cost the owners plenty. Where the hell was he, anyway? This wasn't any of the attic rooms he'd been in. Whatever he was lying on felt weird, too. Like some sort of coarse carpet, except that there were sticks or something under it. He twisted around and looked down into a large, empty eye socket.
"Shit!" He scrambled off of the "carpet," nearly running into the wall in his haste. After his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he was able to make out what had broken his fall. A jackass. A very big, very dead jackass. It was lying in the middle of the floor, all dusty and dried up like one of them Egyptian mummy things. The chest was caved in where he had landed on it, but the hide hadn't broken. It looked like some grotesque bean-bag chair. With a shudder, he brushed at his back and arms.
What was a damned animal doing in the attic? Looking around, he couldn't see any doors or openings other than the hole he'd made coming through the roof. There were some tables and a chair over to one side, a lot of smaller things scattered on the floor. A thick layer of dust covered everything. It looked like nobody had been in here for a hundred years. A secret room? His eyes lit up at the thought. Yeah. He'd read about those old coots who hid money and jewels away in places like this. Anybody crazy enough to drag a donkey up here might have just about anything hidden away.
He undid the rope, and started to look around the room, avoiding the large carcass. There were some candles on the floor, set up in some kind of pattern. A couple had been crushed into the wood by something heavy. The jackass? The first table had been knocked over, and he could see bits of broken glass in the dust. The second table was still upright, and there was a book of some kind lying open on it.
The small patch of sunlight didn't do much for the rest of the room. A couple of wooden bins were nailed to the far wall, and he found some more candles in one of them. Using his lighter, he managed to get one of the thick, greasy tapers lit. The flame flickered a lot, but it was better than nothing.
The extra light didn't make much difference. Other than the candles and the book, he couldn't find anything else. Figured. Other people find money and jewels. He finds a dead donkey. Damn. He went back to the table. Maybe the book was valuable. The writing was faded, but the pages didn't look like paper. He picked it up carefully, and blew dust off. The lettering was real fancy, and looked like it had been hand-written. He'd seen some really old books before, but they'd all been printed up regular. A museum or collector might pay a lot for something like this. He took off his shirt and carefully wrapped the volume, along with a handful of the old candles.
There had to be a way out of here. That jackass sure as hell hadn't come through the roof. But now that he thought bout it, all the stairs he'd seen in the house were way to steep and narrow to get a big animal up. There were no doors in the walls anywhere. He brushed the floor with his foot. There didn't seem to be anything to indicate a trap door.
He looked around the candles. There were some dark lines under the dust there, but they turned out to be some crudely drawn pattern. He got up and stared hard at the area. It was a big star of some kind, with candles at most of the corners. Five points. Oh, yeah. What did they call that thing. A pentagon? No, that was the big Government building. The 'pent' part meant five, didn't it? Pentagram. Yeah, that was it. Like in all those werewolf movies on TV.
The discovery made him a little uneasy. Not that he believed in any of that junk, but there was something really weird about this place. Maybe the book had something to do with magic. If it was really old, he was talking serious bucks again. He had to get it out of here and cover up the hole before somebody else found the room. That way nobody would get suspicious about where he got the book when he tried to sell it.
After searching the rest of the floor, he reluctantly moved back towards the carcass. If there was a way out of this hole, it had to be there. Something in the beast's mouth glinted in the candlelight, and he crouched down to see what it was. One of the front teeth was gold!
The roots were too strong to pull out, but the tooth gave way to a couple blows from his hammer. Jerry hefted the treasure in his hand. What kind of idiot would put several ounces of gold in an donkey's mouth? The same kind that would keep a donkey in his attic. He grinned and pocketed the tooth. No matter what happened with the book, he would get a terrific bonus out of the gold.
Even mummified, the beast was too big to move by himself. Fortunately, he didn't have to. There was a trap door on the other side of the body, almost invisible through the dust. The wood around the opening had been scraped by something dull and hard. Hooves? It looked like the animal might have actually been alive up here, pawing at the door. Probably died of thirst, or heat stroke.
Speaking of heat stroke. He wiped his forehead, and realized that he was getting a little dizzy and weak. Better get out of here before he joined the carcass on the floor. There was a handhold in the trap door lip, and he managed to jerk it open.
Wherever it had led to once was blocked off now by very old wood and plaster. Great. If he tried to get out that way, there'd be no way to keep the room's existence a secret. The sunlight from the hole was not so bright now. It must be late afternoon. Damn. He had to get out of here and cover up the hole. Looked like the only way out was the way he came in.
Luckily, the roof wasn't more than ten feet high. The old table looked fairly sturdy, and if he stood on it he could probably pull himself up. Damn thing was heavy. He grabbed one end and dragged it over towards the carcass, scraping across the markings on the floor.
The table suddenly exploded in a flash of heat and light, knocking Jerry to the floor. Fire rolled through the air like smoke, searing his skin and burning his hair. He started to scream, and then stared dumfounded as the fire swirled into a column over the pentagram and solidified into a purple-black mass of tentacles, suckers, and flowing ooze. Jerry huddled against the wall where the blast had thrown him, too terrified to move. His eyes still stung from the heat, and a stink of burned hair and sulfur made it hard to breathe.
The monster shot towards him, and this time he did scream. But it flattened suddenly against an invisible barrier, like some nightmarish cartoon character. A noise ripped through the room, a thousand fingernails on a thousand blackboards. Given the circumstances, there was only one thing to do. Jerry fainted.
"Hey, mister? You OK?" Jerry came awake suddenly, scrambling away from the voice behind him. The room was lit by several of the sputtering candles, and the light from the hole was the dim red glow of sunset. His eyes and skin no longer burned, and the stench had vanished with the pain. "Chill out, man. I just asked if you were OK." Confused, he turned towards the voice and was surprised to see a scruffy-looking teenager looking at him with a curious expression. "What happened?"
Confused, Jerry looked around the attic. The table stood in the middle of the floor, and there was no sign of the flames and explosion. What the hell? He scrambled up and eyed the kid suspiciously. "Who are you? How'd you get in here?"
The kid gestured towards the hole, and Jerry could see that his rope now hung from it. "I saw the ladder and all, but didn't see nobody walkin' around. After a while, I figured somethin' musta happened, and came up for a look."
Jerry walked over and tugged at the safety line. It felt solid. "How did you get this back up?" The kid shrugged. "It's tied to the chimney. I figured you musta done it." His face blurred slightly, and Jerry blinked trying to focus. Guess that bump on the head had messed him up a little.
An automatic touch of the injured area found nothing. No bump, no bruise. What the? He spun around, suddenly realizing that something had been different about the attic. The jackass was gone! The floor under the hole was covered by unbroken dust, obviously undisturbed for years. Damn! He musta dreamed the whole thing.
Except that he wasn't wearing his shirt. It was on the floor, obviously wrapped around something. A quick check confirmed that it held still held the book and candles he remembered from the 'dream'. Damn, he was confused.
The kid was squatting down, looking at the pattern in the floor. "What's all this stuff? Looks pretty weird." Jerry glanced down and shrugged. "Just some lines. Uh... You live around here?" The kid shook his head. "Nah. Just pokin' around. I live a long way away."
Jerry breathed a sigh of relief. If he could get the kid outa here, he might still pull this off. "Must be really late. Uh, thanks for your help an' all." The boy ignored him, still fascinated by the marks. He rubbed at one with his finger. "These lines look like chalk or something, but they won't come off."
Sure enough, the dark pattern was unbroken under the dust. The kid scraped with his fingernail. "Pretty weird. You gotta knife?" Jerry nodded, getting impatient. "Yeah. But I gotta get stuff packed up here. And I don't think the owners would want you in here. Insurance and all. You know."
The boy poked at the markings again. "OK. But could ya' scrape a little of this stuff up? I just wanna see what it is." Jerry sighed. If it would get this kid outa here, he'd rip up the damned floor. Kneeling, he felt in his pocket for the pocketknife and pulled it out. As he did, something shiny fell out and thudded heavily on the floor. A huge gold tooth. Jerry stared, dumbfounded. If the tooth was here, that meant there had to have been a dead horse. And that meant...
There was a deafening screech, and Jerry threw himself back as the boy suddenly leaped at him. Like the purple thing from his dream, the kid flattened against an unseen barrier, screaming curses and spewing black spittle. Then he fell back and started to laugh. "I almost had you there! Human's ain't got no smarter in the past hun'ert years."
The grinning boy began to swell and change. Flesh became mottled and slick with ooze, and tentacles erupted from the bloated body as he became the purple thing again. Only this time, Jerry was sure it was no dream. He pressed against the wall, shaking uncontrollably. "Wh-what are you?"
"Just your everyday, average demon." It was still the boy's voice coming from the pulpy mass. "Now why don't you be nice, and scrape a little of that line away for me?" One of the tentacles gestured towards the design in the floor. Jerry's mind raced. How did all that stuff work? He'd seen some horror movies, and even read a couple of books. "You can't do anything as long as the line ain't broken!" Jerry stopped shaking, feeling a bit more confident. "You gotta do what I say."
"Oh, really?" There was a hint of amusement in the voice. "Have you already forgotten your friend?" There was a flicker of light by the trap door, and the mummified jackass reappeared. "I can't leave this space. But that doesn't mean I can't deal with fat, slobbering worms like you."
Jerry screamed as fire engulfed his body, and he writhed on the floor in agony. The pain vanished just as suddenly, along with arms, legs, and vision. A huge, white maggot squirmed in the dust. The scream was mental this time, as he had no voice. Then the sound broke free as he stretched back out into human form again. A frantic check confirmed that he was back to normal.
"Just a demonstration." The voice sounded smug. "I can be very unpleasant when I am displeased. On the other hand, making me happy can bring equally great rewards." There was another flicker of light, and a full-length mirror appeared in front of him. Jerry winced at the reflection.
Even the hard labor of his job couldn't compensate for forty-five years, lots of beer and cigarettes, and a diet of fast food. He was used to the rolling belly, and the hard creases which lined his face. Yet as he watched, the lines began to fade, and muscles tightened. The coarse hair on his chest and arms vanished, skin becoming smooth and tanned. In seconds, more than a quarter-century of wear and tear had vanished.
It was more than just youth. The lean, heavily-muscled teenager in the mirror was incredibly handsome, like one of those kids on TV. He was perhaps 18 years old, with the trim, athletic build of a swimmer. His skin was deeply tanned, unmarked by blemishes or imperfections. The face was beautiful, square-jawed and firm, with bright blue eyes and sculpted cheekbones. A thick mane of reddish-blonde hair crowned his head, falling loosely down to his shoulders.
"You can stay like that if you help me out." The voice was sultry now, rich and feminine. Jerry spun around to see a fantastic vision of womanhood standing naked within the pentagram. Long red hair spilled over her shoulders, and she posed carefully to allow him a view of her obvious attributes.
"I could use someone to serve me now and then." She licked her lips and winked at him. "You'd never want for anything, and the fringe benefits are out of this world." Jerry stared at his new body, and then back at the woman. "I, uh, don't know. What will you do when you get out?" The woman smiled sweetly. "You should worry more about what I'll do if I don't get out."
Jerry was suddenly the giant maggot again, this time shrinking into a normal-sized larvae. The dead mule reappeared, mummified flesh swelling out with juices as time reversed. He squirmed towards it, drawn by the overpowering aroma of rotting meat even as his mind recoiled in horror.
"Free me, and you will look young and handsome forever. Refuse, and you will spend eternity like this." Though he had no ears and no brain, Jerry understood the demon's words. With all of his remaining will, he projected a mental 'YES!'
And was lying on the floor with his face almost pressed into the carcass. He scrambled up to hands and knees and backed away. Standing, he spun around and caught his own reflection in the mirror. The demon had made him the young stud again.
"Over here." She pointed at the pocket knife, which still lay on the floor where he had dropped it. Jerry moved towards it slowly, fear battling with some shreds of decency. If he refused to free the demon, there was no doubt in his mind that he would be a maggot or worse forever. But if he broke the pentagram, what kind of horror would he release?
"Uh, you aren't gonna destroy the world or anything like that, are you?" The demon's laughter sent a chill up his spine. "Do you really think I could do anything worse to your kind than you do to yourselves? Poverty, pollution, disease, murder. Most of your own ancestors would take one look at a typical big city and think they were in Hell."
Jerry wanted to argue the point, but found that he couldn't. "What's the big deal about getting out, then? Why don't you just go back to.. wherever you come from?"
She fondled one of her breasts and smiled. "I can watch from here, but everything is like one of your own movies or television shows. It gets boring just to watch things going on. It's much more fun to participate." She sighed, and then gestured at the animal carcass. "That fool summoned me almost a century ago. Turning him into a jackass was quite appropriate.
"Silly me. I left him alone to suffer a bit, and he up and died on me! The bastard hid the entrance too well, and I can't affect anyone outside this room. So I've been stuck here until now." She tossed her head and smiled seductively at Jerry. "Until you found me. And with that lovely body, I can think of several things I want to try with you."
He reached forward and took the knife. Unfolding the blade, he pressed the point into the wood just over the embedded line. Even then he hesitated a moment. The demon's eyes got very cold, and her smile took on an evil cast. "I am getting impatient, Jerry. Break the pentagram, now."
Hesitation vanished. He didn't really care what happened to the slobs out there, as long as he was OK. And eternal youth and life was a hell of a lot more than just OK. The knife bit deep, and slid through the black marking.
Nothing happened. He'd expected fireworks, or flashing light, or something. There was only a laugh from the center of the pentagram, this time with a deeper, oddly familiar voice. Jerry lifted his head to see his old reflection standing in the center of the pentagram, dressed in his clothes, grinning with his face. Except there was no mirror.
The fake Jerry took a careful step across the line, and then grinned broadly. "Very good. Very good, indeed." He stooped down and scooped up the book. "Now to finish things off here." The demon unrolled the book from the shirt and lay it on the table. He seemed to concentrate, and then both book and table started to glow. The light became brighter, spreading across the floor under their feet, and up the walls.
Everything took on a dark reddish glow, as if the room were made of color negatives. The broken opening in the ceiling began to grow, edges melting away like ice from a torch. Walls shifted, taking on new shapes and textures, and the floor underneath tilted suddenly.
Jerry staggered, but managed to keep his balance. When the glow faded, they were standing on a new, if normal roof. The secret room, along with the book, table, and everything else in it, had vanished as if it had never existed.
The demon looked around in satisfaction, and then snapped his fingers. There was a wave of disorientation, and then they were standing in the thick woods near the house. Jerry could see the top of one of the towers through the trees.
"Hope you don't mind my taking over your old identity." The demon looked at himself and wrinkled his nose. "Not much to look at, were you?" He shrugged. "Gives me something to work with, anyway. It's so much easier to do things as a real person. Especially with all the identification and records you people live with."
A faint odor drew Jerry's attention to a familiar-looking shape lying in the trees behind them. Sure enough, the dead jackass had been transported with them. Puzzled, he turned towards the demon. "Why did you bring that thing along?"
The demon glanced over at the carcass. "That? I thought you might want a snack later." Jerry's puzzlement turned to horror as he realized that the heady aroma of carrion was making him hungry. The demon grinned. "I just said you'd LOOK young and handsome forever. Inside, you're still a maggot. After all, 'If it don't show, it don't go'."
- end -
If It Don't Show... copyright 1996 by Bob Stein.
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