When a person dies, there is always the obvious question of the afterlife.
Most people spend their lives contemplating this idea, formulating opinions and arguing incoherently until the day they find out for themselves. Ask anyone for his or her opinion on what exactly happens when we die and you will have become the catalyst for a heated and largely irrational argument.
However, there was one man who was not concerned with this question. In fact, it bored him to an extreme. Why waste time thinking about the inevitable? Why not just wait until you find out yourself? Enjoy what you have and deal with what comes next only when absolutely necessary. This was the motto that Samuel Bracket lived by.
It is not surprising that Mr. Bracket was a notorious coward. Although he didn’t care to question the afterlife, he apparently did not care to examine it too closely, either. At 12 years old, he accidentally killed a neighbor’s dog and blamed it on his little sister to avoid punishment. He faked an eye injury at 18 to get out of military service. When he witnessed an elderly woman being robbed in the park at age 24, he turned his head and walked in another direction.
And now, at age 64, he lived alone and peacefully in a mansion on the edge of the little town he was born in. He was not well liked, but preferred the solitude anyway, so he was rarely seen in the actual town itself.
But every person, good or bad, friendly or antagonistic, cowardly or brave, dead or alive, has a story. Mr. Bracket is no exception. It was merely that, up until the morning of July 6th, 1987, he didn’t have a story worth mentioning. The events of that day, however, will live eternally in the memory of the Earth…and in your memory, dear reader, should you choose to continue.
Samuel Bracket awoke at exactly 6:00 AM on the morning of Saturday, July 6th, as he had done every morning for 50 years. He pulled himself out of bed – no small feat for a lazy man – and treated himself to his usual breakfast of eggs on toast. Nothing was interesting about his morning until the clock struck eight.
When the grandfather clock began to spew out the eight fatal chimes, Samuel Bracket was watching his favorite news channel. He almost didn’t hear the creaking noise above the racket that great clock made.
But the creaking was there, and loud enough for him to notice. He switched off the TV and sat, listening intently. He strained to hear beyond the noise of the clock. And, sure enough, there it was: creak… creak… creeeeeeaaak…
The clock coughed out the eighth toll and all was still. The noise had stopped, but the unearthly quiet now settled deep in Samuel’s heart. He felt in his veins that something was utterly and completely wrong – something that it would be in his best interest to ignore.
After a moment or two of strained silence, he switched the TV back on. And, for a while, all was right with the world once more.
It was at precisely 8:13 that the creaking started up again. He did not need to turn off the TV this time to know it was there. The slight sound was lodged in his brain and therefore easily identifiable.
Samuel turned the volume up on the TV.
The creaking became louder.
He turned the volume up once more.
The creaking could no longer be heard.
Thinking that he had won the battle, Mr. Bracket relaxed in his chair, focusing on the newest outbreak of salmonella or kidnapping or child-murdering with a peaceful smile.
Samuel jumped. His face drained of color and took the hue of spilled milk. This was a sound it seemed he could not ignore. Something had definitely fallen in the attic.
He sat in absolute silence, unaware that he had turned the TV off once again. The house was as still as the dead, and no sounds could be detected. Yet he knew that something had happened. And he knew what he should do.
Rising from his chair, Samuel walked to the kitchen and pulled the emergency flashlight from the decrepit cabinet. Slowly, he walked out of the kitchen, down the hall, to the left and up the stairs. He arrived on the second floor, stopped, and listened.
Not even the sound of the wind.
He took another step. And listened.
Although he couldn’t discern any sounds, something was awfully different about the house. He could not say for certain anymore that there was a definite absence of noise – there seemed to be some tone underlying everything, coloring his world with shades of sepia. He felt a thick clutching in his throat, but forced himself to move one foot in front of the other, turning to the right, walking down another hall, past the bedroom, up the stairs…
Until he had reached the attic door.
A terrible chill skittered along his spine like a brown recluse spider. He felt a freezing in his bones that was almost physically debilitating. And, although he still heard no sound, the house was far from silent.
It would have seemed to the disinterested onlooker that our protagonist was waiting for something. In reality, however, he felt that something was waiting for him.
Something just on the other side of the door.
His hand reached out slowly, clutching for the door handle with a forced precision. It took an eternity to turn the knob and another thousand years to open the door. He walked into the unlit room, flashlight burning in his right hand while his left frantically searched the air for the cord that would turn on the attic light.
He found the cord and pulled. The attic remained in darkness. Yet, somehow, that seemed all right.
The time was 8:26.
The flashlight swept the room in tandem with his searching eyes. Eventually they happened upon the object that must have fallen. An old box full of books he’d never cared to read.
A slight relief washed through his chest as he advanced towards the box and replaced the books in their rightful place. He set the box on the shelf, ignoring the fact that there wasn’t any way the box could have fallen by itself. He had begun to rationalize and reason, attempting to root out the fear, when he heard a slight click.
He turned around to see that the door was closed.
His jaw clenched and his muscles tensed. Stiffly, he walked towards the door and tried it, only to find it locked. His heart was pounding too hard, his breath pulling too slow. He stared at the door, realizing that eventually he would have to turn back around, and fearing what he would see when he did.
It was the return of the creaking noise that prompted him to turn back towards the middle of the room. It was the need to know what was coming for him, for he no longer questioned that he was the subject of some strange and dangerous attack.
What he saw stunned him.
A 13-year-old girl sat in the middle of the floor, staring at him with wide green eyes. Clothed in regular attire, the only interesting thing about her (other than the fact that she had for some reason invaded his attic) was that she held five or six marbles in her hand. She rolled them in her palm, clicking them back and forth. There was something oddly familiar about the sound, as though it had always been a part of the house, and he had just noticed it now.
She searched in her pocket and produced a piece of chalk, drawing a crude circle on the wood floor. In it she placed four of the marbles, keeping two clutched in her palm. Samuel began to realize that she meant to play a game of marbles and had kept a shooter for herself. The other she held out now to him.
And so he was to be her opponent.
Without questioning this strange turn of events, or even really turning it over in his mind, he took the shooter and sat down across from her. His gaze searched and prodded in the marble, dancing along the swirled blue and purple that hung suspended in the glass. Something seemed oddly familiar about everything that had happened…and yet he could not quite place his finger on it.
The little girl closed one eye to aim, much like he used to do, and shot the marble out, knocking out one yellow marble. She gathered it up in her greedy little hands, pulling it close to her. And she looked at him expectantly.
He assessed the game, attempting to use the eye for marbles he once had. If he could knock the remaining two out with one stroke, he would win. If he could only get one, she might win…or she might miss and he could win. But if he missed both…well, the game would be over for him.
He found a common angle and leaned down to aim. He sat there for a long time, poised quietly until he had gathered the courage to shoot.
One marble shot out of the circle. The other moved over an inch or two and stopped. He could no longer feel his heart as he reached out to retrieve his marble.
For the first time looking at the little girl, he realized what strange skin she had. A pale face would hardly be noticeable if not for the purple tone of her neck. It was as if she had been strangled, yet here she sat, fully capable of playing at her childhood games.
She leaned over to aim and he noticed the lacerations on her arms. As he watched, blood began to flow freely from them.
Looking back to her face, he saw her eyes had tiny holes in them, as though maggots had been chewing through her skull. And nothing seemed to make sense.
She hit the marble softly, and it began to drift towards the outside of the circle.
Drifting, drifting, drifting… he began to pray that it would stop just in time.
The marble drifted just outside of the circle.
And this time, as she reached savagely for the marble, he saw that her hands were only skin and bone, with scratches all along them. He began to shake with apprehension.
For the first time that day, Samuel Bracket spoke. “Well. You’ve won. Now what do you want? You can keep my marbles.”
A standard trade. But she shook her head with a smile. As her smile spread like the plague across her thin face, her lips cracked and tore, worms appearing in the crevices.
She pointed to the end of the attic, to something that lay on the ground. She stared at him expectantly, the smile never wavering from her face. Her skin was beginning to flake off into pieces as he stood.
As soon as he walked over, he wished that he hadn’t.
A mass of bloody entrails lay squished and rotted upon the floor. Below them, he could barely make out the body of the girl, eviscerated and torn apart as though by wild beasts. A high-pitched noise was emitted from his throat as he ripped air into his lungs, making him sound like a dying teakettle. He stepped back as a means of escape, only to feel his foot land on something soft and yielding. He looked down.
Blood covered his feet as he stood in the collapsed skull of a freshly-rotting child. The tongue had lolled out of the mouth down so far as to touch what used to be his neck. A spider crawled out of his mouth, and numerous others exited the skull and crawled along Mr. Bracket’s shoe.
Jerking back, he stepped into another mess of gore. He looked about and for the first time realized that his attic had become the site of genocide… and all of the victims were children.
As he stood, on the verge of vomiting, he suddenly saw what it was that killed them. He saw it coming towards him as plain as day. And, for the first time, he realized that he had become a child again.
And he began to scream. And scream. And scream.
When Mr. Bracket didn’t come in to town on Sunday for his weekly shopping, the cashier at the grocery store phoned the police, wondering what could have happened to her most regular customer. Out of all of the people in town, she was the only one who harbored any affection for him, as she remembered the way he was always polite to her in a distant way.
The police found him lying in his chair, the TV on and set to channel 4, as per usual. The only unusual thing was the fact that he was no longer breathing.
Autopsy confirmed that he had died of a heart attack, most likely due to old age and poor eating habits. Not another thought was given to Mr. Bracket, and he was buried a few days later, with only a few town members in attendance.
And so it seemed that Mr. Bracket had answered the question after all.