The Thing With Locks
By Jeffrey Bishop
Tell Time: 8 minutes
Scare Rating: 4/5 Ghosts
As the moving truck rumbled away from the curb, Beth shut the door firmly and turned the heavy deadbolt on the front door, securing herself safely behind the heavy oak door of her new home. She did so in the belief that it would keep out the dangers of her past.
That deadbolt alone had sold her on the house. It’s heavy, dull brass finish — warm and solid — was a promise of a new start.
“That’s the thing with locks: they’re great at keeping things out,” she thought to herself.
All the same, the young woman went through the house room by room, inspecting the window locks to make sure that each was also securely closed. Fully confident of her safety, she returned to the front room, to a small dozen or so of cardboard boxes that contained all of her worldly belongings.
“You’re really quite ridiculous, Beth,” she chided herself over the compulsive behavior with the locks. Though she was alone, she couldn’t help but feel a tad embarrassed. “He’s locked away behind bars. He doesn’t even know where you are. He can’t hurt you any more.”
She tore a strip of tape off the first box. Somewhere in one of those boxes was the bedding she’d need to find before turning in for the night, and the coffee pot she’d need in the morning. Everything else could wait to be put in its rightful place. But it was early yet — the sun was just going down — and Beth was suddenly energized at the prospects of a fresh start to her life. So she started with putting her living room together first.
In leaving her old life, her old house, Beth had already made tough decisions. She had left behind — no, destroyed — the remnants of her unpleasant past. So what she unpacked — her personal effects — were special. The rosewood jewelry box her father had made for her for her 16th birthday. The box of photos from college — of her friends, at parties and at football games. The fish-bowl biome with the hen-and-chicks she’d bought at the botanical gardens with her aunt. She smiled at each recollection, and also at herself, as she realized at one point that she had been whistling even.
She was engrossed in her work — in her memories — and put together the living room, her bedroom and her bathroom in quick succession. Spent and satisfied with what she’d accomplished, she stood from amidst the pile of newsprint and flattened cardboard that surrounded her, rising with a tall stretch before softly padding to the kitchen on bare feet for something to eat.
En route to the refrigeration and the half of a cheese pizza and two grape sodas that the movers hadn’t been able to finish, Beth glanced at the clock on the stove. She noticed it read “12:00.”
“That can’t be right — it can’t be past 9 o’clock!” she said aloud. Beth dug through her purse to find her watch; she’d need it to re-set the stove clock. Drawing the bracelet out, she peered into its digital face, then gasped. In its own green-blue glow, the watch also shone “12:00.”
“Very odd,” she thought to herself — still calm despite the coincidence of the two clocks in steadfast agreement with each other, but in apparent disagreement with reality. But she almost jumped out of her skin as a bell tolled from the belfry of a neighborhood church. Beth sat down on her bed and listened to the somber gonging sound, counting the toll.
All the way up to …
“Twelve,” she said with awe-struck finality. “It can’t be twelve!”
At that moment, the lights flickered, then went out. Beth let out a little shriek, then composed herself. She jumped off the bed to investigate.
Padding back toward the kitchen, Beth noticed lights coming in from the street through her living room window. She walked to the pane and peered out, only to find a cheery scene, as every house in the neighborhood still had power. On the corner, a bright blue-white glow spilled onto the pavement from the municipal lamppost. There wasn’t bad weather to take out the power; perhaps there’d been a power surge — a blown breaker.
As if to try to confirm her suspicion, there suddenly came a clattering, rattling sound from the basement– then stopped. As a gush of breath poured out of her mouth, Beth realized she’d been holding her breath. But then the clattering started again.
Beth found her purse again — this time in the dark — and fumbled blindly for her key chain, which also held a flashlight. Now duly armed against the oppressive dark, she made her way to the basement door at the back of the house.
As she opened the door, Beth hesitated. She saw a faint greenish glow — not a comforting light at all — and heard a distant whooshing sound — like the sound of air coming through a cave or a tunnel. The clanging sound also started again — louder now for the fact that she was closer to it.
“I’ve gotta find that breaker box, so I can get the lights back on,” she said aloud; firmly, as if to embolden herself.
Beth quickly clambered down the worn wooden steps. She wanted to get the chore over; it was starting to feel like her good day was taking a bad turn.
At the bottom of the stairs, she wheeled around the corner to the open, unfinished room, and froze. In the beam of her flashlight were three dark forms. They seemed to ooze up out of the ground, bobbing and floating in front of a swirling orb of green light. Each thing was black as pitch — the light from behind them did nothing to illuminate them, neither did her flashlight beam; instead, they seemed to swallow up all light as if it could be vacuumed up.
Unable to do anything more than just stare, Beth noticed their eyes — or what should have been eyes. Instead, at that place on their faces, the blackness was torn, and she could see the green portal-like glow through the dark shape. And, as those eyes narrowed toward on her form, she quickly realized the things could see her.
Beth didn’t know what was in her basement; she only knew that she had to get out of there. Fast.
She turned and bolted up the stairs, but tripped and fell halfway up. Her head struck the top step with the full force of her fall, and she felt warm blood trickle down her face. She also felt an icy cold grip on her ankle.
“No!” She shrieked at the thing that had a hold of her. She snapped her leg up and away, and felt icy slices through her flesh as the thing released its grip. But she was free again!
Bounding up the steps, she made for the heavy oak door. Her hands were shaking as she twisted the knob frantically. With no result.
“It’s locked!” she remembered. As she reached up to twist the lock free, she instead fell to her knees, screaming in agony. The thing had caught up with her, and this time took her down with a hard swipe of its dark claws. It recoiled again at Beth’s second anguished scream — but not nearly so much as it had in the basement. It might not have liked the sound, but it had figured out that it couldn’t be hurt by her screams.
She clambered to her feet with her remaining strength, nearly slipping on her own blood that quickly pooled at her feet. She firmly grabbed the latch, and gave it a hard twist. Nothing happened. The lock — the solid, secure, hardened brass lock that she’d loved for its security –wouldn’t budge. Whether due to age or some supernatural intervention, the lock was solidly at home in its casing.
Beth had escaped one terror only to encounter a second, evil one — in the safety of her own home. And while that former one had been locked away, she was now locked in with this new one. She knew that she was going to die.
Her final thought was rich in irony.
“That’s the thing with locks: They’re great at keeping things out. And they’re great at keeping things in.”