Jack in the Box, Chapter One

When my dad was informed he would need to relocate for his job, I was surprised he found a house as fast as he did. He’s a civil engineer, so we’re always moving for his projects around the country. As of now, he’s been put in charge of building stretch of highway, with a projected five to seven years to complete. This means we’re settling long enough to take root, so to speak.

He decided we’d settle our so-called roots for the time being, to give me a chance to make friends and finish my last two years of high school. He searched through the local papers for a place perfect for us but couldn’t find anything. Then he got a call leading him to our new house; the deal of a lifetime.

And so, the Donovan’s would make a home in Blanco, Texas, the smallest town in the Lone Star State. At sixteen, I was being moved away from friends and cute boys to the boonies.

Our trusty Suburban was loaded to breaking with boxes containing our valuable possessions and teetered along a stretch of lonely road and endless brush land. That’s how my uncle would describe it, but my parents get angry with me for bringing up my uncle, seeing as they don’t get along. I think he’s cool enough, for an adult, but my opinion doesn’t really matter to my mother. She has her own opinions, and her opinions are fact for the rest of the family, as far as she’s concerned.

“Sweetie, you need to watch who you hang out with in life,” she always told me, usually wagging a finger in my face as if baiting a dog with a biscuit. “People judge you for almost every action you take, every piece of clothing you wear, and every person you choose to hang out with. Your uncle’s not normal like we are.”

“We’re normal?” I would retort, causing her to lose her temper and storm away, usually calling out for my father to “handle your daughter!” He shrugged and told me not to hang out with anyone who would pressure me to do anything I didn’t want to do.

Thanks, Dad.

“Would Uncle Rook pressure me to do things?” I asked my dad once, wanting to know why there was such a rift between them.

“No, just stay away from him. He’s not normal,” my dad replied in a tone which told me there wasn’t any room for argument. Seeing as my father was generally a fun-loving guy, that tone spoke volumes.

Estranged uncle aside, we pulled onto the barren stretch of road leading to our new home. Like everywhere else in Texas, the grass was either dying or dead. The heat was unbearable, making even the surrounding trees (which were few and far between) short and squat, more like tall bushes really.

We stopped at the Blanco Market for groceries, used the post office, and notified the electric company we were ready for power. The people of Blanco had welcomed us in a strange way, eyeing us as the locals approached up to inquire if we were The Donovan’s. On learning we were, they’d give us a big Blanco welcome by purchasing our groceries. Dad was busy on the phone, so my mom and I did our best to greet the steady stream of curious onlookers.

With the assurances of the Blanco County Electric and Gas Company our home would have water and light, we piled back into our Suburban and crawled out of town and towards the property.

My dad began to slow as we passed the wooden fence which marked the beginning of the property, turning the Suburban slightly so we could stare up at our new home as we approached from a low hill behind the house, creating a picturesque appearance in the dying light of the day.

There was a colonial feel to the house, with a wrap-around porch. The second story was had a lighthouse look, with a large domed section set apart from the rest of the second floor, which was more of a traditional style, save of course for the wear and tear the years had plied from the building.

“It’s home!” I said with false cheer, clapping my hands together in mock excitement. My dad snorted and my mom told me to shush.

“It’s a piece of crap,” she said with a sinister glare aimed at my dad. My mom was notorious for liking the good things in life, and when he purchased an older home in the country, she pictured something that was clearly not this.

“With what we saved on the price, we’ll have some contractors come out and do some repairs.

It’ll look brand new after we sink a little money into it,” my dad said with a smile. “At least we don’t have any neighbors to worry about, so Monica can play her music as loud as she wants!”

“She most certainly will not! I know from experience it won’t get any better if she simply makes it louder!” she argued.

I grinned. “I don’t know Mom, I can live up in the tower-thing and dad can have it soundproofed so I don’t bother you any—”

“He will do no such thing!” she said, her face beginning to redden in a predictable way.

“Relax dear, Monica’s just pulling your leg a bit,” my dad said. His look told me the game was over so I stopped goading my mom.

She hated my music, a talent she said I inherited from my Grandfather (which, as he was only her step-father, I couldn’t see how it could work), his love for music driving him to spend most of his twilight years playing guitar while making CD’s to sell. While in no way famous, he had his own cult following, and since his passing I inherited one of his older guitars. Uncle Rook had the rest of them since Grandpa was his father and all.

We climbed out of the car, the cool interior immediately giving way to the heat of the day. We began taking the bags of gifted groceries into the house, my dad taking forever to figure out how to unlock the front door with the gigantic brass key he’d been given by the realtor.

The inside was hotter and muggier, with the stale air pressing down on us. Two sweeping sets of stairs flanked the walls of the dining room, one set leading to the second floor while the other lead to the tower. The kitchen was easy enough to find, and the cold blast of air that erupted from the refrigerator once opened had us laughing pleasantly as we unloaded the food.

My dad said he was going to find the central air controls while my mom and I began unloading our stuff. We only needed to bring in our clothes and personal effects since the house came furnished, albeit in a rather grotesque fashion. The previous owner had obviously been into hunting, with dust-covered animal heads jutting out from the walls of the dining room, next to the kitchen and beneath the tower.

“Sweetie, go check the bedrooms for us. There should be a master suite and a guest room; the guest room will be your bedroom,” my mom said as we dropped stacks of cardboard boxes onto the wide table in the dining room, kicking up a storm of dust.

I laughed as I climbed the stairs when a grate coughed out a stream of cobwebs and dust before a steady stream of cold air flowed; dad found the AC controls.

“Thank goodness,” I muttered.

The upstairs hall held only a few doors, two of which were linen closets and one lead to a small washroom. I found the master bedroom at the end of the hall, the door creaking open to reveal a large and unfurnished bedroom. Sheets covered the bed and a large armoire sat across from it. As I walked across the room to look out the windows, I caught a flash of movement from the corner of my eye.

I spun to find nothing but dust floating in the air. I looked around with caution, searching for whatever was in here with me. I would be my mother’s hero if I killed a large rat.

I braced myself as I grabbed the musty sheet from the bed and pulled it off in a cloud of angry dust bunnies, only to find myself staring into the vivid green eyes of something malevolent. With a hiss it lunged at me.

I screamed.


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