by Michelle Muenzler; illustration by Rocky Kelley
In the basement, there is candy. Boxes teetering atop boxes, overloaded with gum gums and chew worms and those little nougat-filled eyeballs that blink when you stare overlong; with honeyed do's and honeyed dont's; with tar braids and clots of candied floss.
The basement has all the candy you've ever dreamed of, a sticky thrill in every box that's yours and yours alone because only you know where the basement door is currently hiding.
The basement, unfortunately, is also full of spiders.
Your roommate thinks you're crazy. She writes letters to her great-aunt about you, stacks and stacks of them pressed and yellowed like dried daffodils. They rub against each other at night and keep you up, they're so noisy. You can't sleep on the same floor as the letters, so you grab your pillow--the one with your baby footprints ink-stained atop it along with your vital birth statistics--and drag yourself through the hole behind the fridge to the secret landing where the basement door is yawning as though it only just awoke.
You tell it about the letters, about your roommate, and it gives what might be sage advice if you too were a door.
Then you bring up the spiders.
The door's mouth clamps shut, and for the rest of the night it acts as deaf and dumb as every other door in the house.
Meanwhile, the stacks of letters continue to grow. Your roommate doesn't mail them, merely ties them off with assorted ribbons and tosses them into the corner where they rasp and squirm. Every now and then, one manages to wriggle free of its pack.
You know this because they camouflage themselves in the general clutter of the halls when they escape, awaiting the stray passing of a foot to pounce. Their teeth aren't very sharp, but like everything else in the house, given enough time they will draw blood.
When you return them to your roommate, she snatches them from your hands with an accusatory glare and nurses them against her chest as though it's your fault the corners are newly crumpled and tinged with red.
The letters are a menace, as much as the spiders.
Finally you grab them all one night while your roommate is sleeping, stuffing them into a laundry sack and heaving them over your shoulder. They hiss and crimple, but your roommate doesn't wake. Carefully, you shove them through the hole behind the fridge, through the door still pretending to be a door, and down the basement stairs.
Everything is quiet at first, but then the letters slither free of the laundry bag and the spiders whisper warnings to the new intruders and suddenly paper and silk threads are flying in all directions. The letters snap up spiders between their folds, smearing them into an inky paste, while spiders snatch loose letters and mockingly recite their contents to each other before tossing them aside where they whimper broken in the corners.
While they fight, you tiptoe down the stairs and fill your pockets with candy. A few of the whimpering letters cling to the hem of your pajamas as you slip back out the basement door, but you scrape them off with a twist of your foot and close the door behind you.
The candy is sweet, as sweet as you remember.
# # #
Your roommate thinks you're crazy, but you love the dance of ink across paper. You love the shush of quiet words arranging and rearranging in perfect configurations before you gently tuck them into their envelopes and nestle them with their siblings.
Like all children, some are more aggressive than others. You don't mind, though. A bit of blood is a small price to pay to watch your children grow up.
So used to the comforting rustle of paper rubbing against paper, you startle awake one night convinced the house is afire. But there is no smoke. Just a deafening silence so deep you can hear the scribble of neurons firing across your brain.
You switch on your bedside lamp, expecting the worst.
It is as expected; the letters are gone.
You know your roommate is to blame. The letters would never leave all at once on their own--you love them too much. So you slip on your slippers--the bears, not the badgers or the fat horned toads your great-aunt sent you last Christmas--and begin the search for your roommate.
You find her snoring, stuffed behind the fridge, sticky-mouthed and sticky-fingered with a pile of discarded candy wrappers beside her.
Her feet lie dampened with ink.
There is a hole behind your roommate leading into the kitchen wall, but when you shove your head inside, there is nothing there but mouse-chewed wires and the stale scent of pumpkin spice tea.
You return to your room and pull out your pen and a fresh sheath of paper, then begin to write letters to your great-aunt detailing the tragedy you suspect. You take back what few good things you've said about your roommate in the past. You call your roommate a terrible person.
These words do not rearrange themselves. They are quite happy where they are.
One by one, you crease the letters into perfect tri-folds then carry them all downstairs. You release them at your roommate's bare feet, watch as they unfurl at her scent. She remains deep in sugar thrall even as the first letters begin to gnaw.
Their teeth aren't very sharp, but like everything else in the house, given enough time they will draw blood...
About the Creator
Michelle Muenzler, known at local science fiction and fantasy conventions as “The Cookie Lady,” writes fiction both dark and strange to counterbalance the sweetness of her baking. Her short fiction and poetry can be read in numerous science fiction and fantasy magazines, and she takes immense joy in crinkling words like little foil puppets.
This story was originally published in Daily Science Fiction.
World's Shortest Creator Interview
Q: If you could change one thing from your childhood, what would it be and why? (Please include the phrase "hot pink orangutan" in your answer.)
A: Instead of discovering myself as a child to secretly be a unicorn transformed unjustly into human form and stripped of memory, I would discover myself to secretly be a unicorn transformed into the glorious shape of a hot pink orangutan and gifted with a PhD in dance parties. As I was truly meant to be.
Q: Here's a quote: "Language is just a dialect with an army." What modern language do you think should be immediately disarmed, and why?
A: I vote for the immediate disarmament of the binary language. Those wily hordes of 1's and 0's are definitely hiding something nefarious...
About Our Sponsor
Are your ears bored? Looking for a new, hilarious, kid-friendly scifi podcast from people you trust? Our story this month is sponsored by THIS WEEK IN THE MULTIVERSE, the new free storytelling podcast from two of the Squid founders, Matthew Bey and SG Wilson. If you don't LOL at least thrice when listening to the first episode, we will gladly give you a Squid t-shirt at Armadillocon or whenever you're next in Austin, Texas! Click the TWITM logo or visit them on iTunes.
About the Artist
Rocky Kelley is an award-winning artist and muralist whose paintings have appeared in magazines, galleries, art shows, Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogs, and even on The David Letterman Show. Rocky’s numerous awards include the Director’s Award at the 2006 World Fantasy Art Show. Kelley works in many genres, including: Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Surrealism... and more. He has appeared as a guest of honor, panelist, demonstrator, judge, and exhibitor at countless conventions and art events. Recently he was voted Best Artist by the fans at Armadillocon 37. Many of his dark fantasy works are created under the pseudonym of “Ashen Gray.” Rocky has written his first book and is currently creating illustrations for that project. His artwork may be viewed at www.rockykelley.com.