Somehow, despite the fear, I fall asleep. Then morning light comes through the small window in the wall across from me, and I see what is making all those weird smells. There are more homemade mannequins, like Lyle and Betsy, strewn throughout the room, so much so that they pile up to block more two thin windows on the other walls of the room. On the right mound, some of the visible ones are one made of chewed gum, what looks like various varieties of hair, and another is made of full grass clipping bags with a crude smiley face drawn on the head with marker. Others in the pile are made of unwashed milk bottles, and a few made from insulation and couch stuffing, which ants and mice are nesting in, living off the rotting food still caked in containers Brett used to make some of his creations.
The one window without any junk blocking it only has a view of the neighboring house’s wall; I can’t see anything else because the window is too high up and the walls of the houses are too close together for anyone to chance walking by. I shove away the junk-mannequins on the right side of the room, but it all I see is Brett’s backyard, and a white plastic shed. The third and final window looks out on the street. I shout when I see cars come and go and when the sterile-looking owners of those cars enter their houses, but they don’t hear me. I try to break the window with some of the harder junk I find, but the glass is too thick, and the window is so narrow that no one can see my escape attempts.
I exhaust myself and start to climb down from the pile of junk that I stood on to look out the window when I step on the old canvas of an old cot, the metal frame creaking under my weight. Poking out from under the junk piled on the cot is a blanket with the shape of a foot in it. After I pull the blanket back, I see it’s no crude junk-by-Brett imitation, but the real thing. The skin is wrinkled, sallow. I take more junk away and am greeted with the body of an old man still clutching his blanket in stiffened fingers. It’s just some Halloween decoration I tell myself there’s no way that can be the real thing. But the elastic way the flesh of the mouth moves when a rat crawls out of it is proof enough.
I spend the rest of the daylight hours hunched by the door on the verge of panic and thinking that this is how I’ll die, that I’ll just be another lifeless thing for Brett to keep in this room, another corpse like his erstwhile grandpa.
Come nightfall, come Brett bearing burnt toast with bad butter in one hand and a big knife in the other.
“Shamus, this is for you,” Brett says. “You’re not like the other friends I’ve made, you need food, but I like to keep you because you react like real people do. But you can only come out when I feel like it.”
After he gives me my meager sustenance, he leaves to drag Lyle into the room for the mannequin made out of hair. Brett keeps his knife in a tight grip at all times and flicks his eyes toward me often to let me know he’s always ready to use it if I try to make a break for it. He leaves to do his nightly rant. I try to concentrate on eating the toast as a means of mentally escaping all of this, but the smells and the thought of the corpse on the cot makes me vomit all over the plate.
An hour passes then there’s a knock at Brett’s front door. I can’t make out what they’re saying, only the muted sound of Brett’s on-the-edge-of-mania voice and a cold and formal voice. The door slams and I hear Brett stomp to his bedroom grumbling:
“Damn shrink needs to shut the hell up!” Then he slams his door.
Small Town Nightmares is a weekly fiction series written by Devin O’Brien.