The Halloween Project 2020 - Story 5: Hidden Skills
"This place is an old, creepy piece of shit," Tony announced.
"So tell me something I don't already know," Keith replied. "What do want to do? Are we takin' this job or not? I don't care one way or the other. We have plenty of work."
Tony jumped, "Of course we're takin' the job. This is a huge job. The family's got money, we'll be here for months. There's no time pressure. It's cake. It's still a creepy piece of shit. What is this house 1920's?"
"Actually 1897. I looked it up. 14 rooms in all, closets and crawl spaces, a back stairwell. Four fireplaces. We're gonna gut this thing, new electric, new plumbing. They'd be better to tear it down and build something new, but, hey, the guy said he owes it to his great- grandfather. The old man, he died in the 1930's, made a mint in manufacturing and the owner is still living off the fortune."
"Come on, we'll do the fuckin' job. It's cake," Cowboy Bob added from the back seat of the Chevy Crew Cab. Bob wasn't the sharpest saw. And gigantic to boot. Easy six foot five, 280, he could lift shit that you wouldn't consider even trying to lift. He also worked hard and kept quiet, two assets tough to find in this modern world of every young pup wanting good money for half ass work. No one knows why they called him Cowboy Bob, maybe because he wore black all the time, but the name stuck.
"So let's get to it," Keith, the reluctant leader announced.
The next month went smoothly, non load bearing walls came down, floors were ripped up. Crews were called in to sand and polish, other crews to hoist sledge hammers to break out beam and post. Until one day when things turned.
Tony was on his hands and knees with a hammer trying to pull off some molding when a piece of the lower wall came undone, falling in a cloud of plaster dust. Behind the wall, between the joist was a small box of nails, three and a half inch box nails.
"Hey, Keith, come here!" When Keith walked into the room, Tony continued, "What do you make of this?"
"A carton of box nails. So?"
"It was behind the wall. Look, it's in perfect shape. All the nails inside. They look perfect, not a touch of rust. This house was built in the 1890's? Are you kiddin' me?"
"Tony, look," Keith said, "Somebody's busting your balls. This is not possible. One of these crews planted it there just to mess with your head."
"Look, Keith, I just broke open the wall. There's no way."
"They probably dropped it from the floor above. I don't know. It's a mystery alright? Just leave it be, O.K.? We got work to do."
Two days later Tony stepped on an upright three and a half inch box nail in a piece of crown molding left unaware.
"JESUS, MOTHER AND JOSEPH!" Tony screamed as he fell to the floor clutching his boot. Cowboy Bob came running and picked Tony right off the floor. Keith drove him to the hospital like he was a cast member of CSI Miami, lights flashing, horn blaring. Tetanus shots, a few sutures on the top and bottom of his foot, a nice couple of pain pills and Tony was hobbling out of the Emergency Room.
"Shit. I am so sorry, Tony," Keith began, "Those other goddamn crews gotta be more careful with their work."
Tony offered a different opinion. "Don't you think it's just a little weird? I found those box nails a couple of days ago and now I put one through my foot? You know how careful I am. And every job has to be just so for me. Perfect. You know that."
"It's weird, Tony. It's totally fuckin' weird," was all that Keith could say.
It was three days later with Tony back on the job when Keith found a finger underneath an old bathtub that had been rendered to pieces by some hard thrown sledge blows by Cowboy Bob. Keith had jumped back and raised his hands as if to ward off something.
"What the hell is that?" Bob asked no one in particular. All three stared down at the digit, lying still and perfect. It was not a full finger, but a half. Actually, a pinkie, cut neatly at the second joint. Surgical, perfect, clean. The problem was that it was new. Not dried, desiccated, mummified. A single drop of dried blood coagulated at the stump.
"This," Tony pointed at the finger, "This," pointing again for emphasis, "Is not fucking possible."
Four days later, Keith, at the DeWalt table saw that he had used to cut ten thousand boards of all shapes and sizes, cut off the pinkie finger on his right hand. An operation sewed it back on, he was wrapped up with bandages that looked like a white boxing glove.
Four days later, Keith, Tony and Cowboy Bob stood around the truck.
"It's haunted. This whole crazy house is haunted up the ass. I don't care how much work is in there and how much we're gonna make, I'm not going back inside, " Tony declared.
"It's coincidence, that's all," Keith countered. "But I understand what you're saying. You go work on the job in Easton. We'll come over and help with the heavy shit when you need us."
"Look," Tony tried to convince them, "I'd feel a lot better if we all just shut the door on this one."
As one, all three men turned to observe the looming Victorian 30 feet away. 20 seconds passed. Keith made a gesture, arms at his sides, wrapped finger lifted as well, as if to say, "Who knows?"
Cowboy Bob said, "It's coincidence. I'm going to work."
It was exactly a week later, Tony had come around with roast beef sandwiches on hard rolls with Gatorades. He stayed outside waiting for his partners. In the attic low under the eaves Cowboy Bob was tearing up the old flooring so they could install new insulation. Keith was on the other side of the attic doing the same as best he could with his left hand.
"Holy hell, it's a hundred degrees in here!" Keith yelled over.
"Hey, come over here! You gotta see this!" Bob shouted
Keith labored to his feet. Cowboy Bob was holding a small doll, made of wood, perhaps carved, maybe 10 inches long. It was completely dressed in black.
"Holy shit, here we go again. Bob, it looks just like you."
The doll in a bright flash erupted into flames, burning intensely, white hot. Bob tossed it just as quickly. It lay on the old wooden floor, curling into sticks and ash. Bob looked at his hand, which had burn marks on his fingers and thumb.
"Damn," Bob said, "We got anything for this in the truck?"
"Nah. It doesn't look too bad. Here, take the keys, drive down to Rite-Aid and grab some ointment or something."
Bob nodded, grabbed the keys, and descended the attic steps.
Keith stood for a long time looking down at the slim pile of ash. He thought about the box nails, the finger, and now the doll. Something wasn't right. Something. Just something.
He turned abruptly and rushed down the attic steps. Running even faster he careened to the second floor almost stumbling, then to the grand staircase and to the first floor. He blasted open the front door with his good hand. Bob was just shutting the door of the truck's cab.
"Bob!" he shouted, "BOB!" he screamed.
Tony looked up at Keith from where he stood some distance off.
"DON'T START THE...!!"
The explosion cut off his final word. The Chevy exploded in a nuclear fire. Flames rose 20 feet. For a second nothing could be seen save for white hot light. Inside, a writhing figure rocked spasmodically back and forth, only twice. The conflagration diminished as fast as it appeared. Tiny tongues of flame played at the melted tires. Keith looked at Tony who had dropped to his knees.