What Friends Don’t Tell Friends About Basements

“It’s your night to watch the basement, Carly,” my father says, sitting on the puffed blue comforter covering my parents’ bed. He’s pulling on a green button-down shirt, trying hard to get the second sleeve over what’s left of his missing arm. I thought he would be better at this by now, after three years, but he still needs help. I walk over and stretch the shirt’s material over his shoulder, forcing his arm into the mostly empty sleeve. Sometimes he has me tie the fabric in a knot, others he lets it dangle, showing off the vacant space inside.

“But I’m not on the schedule,” I reply, my hands falling to the buttons rising up his chest.

“Things change sometimes. Your mother and I have to visit your aunt at the hospital.”

“But it’s Alyssa’s birthday.”

“I know. I saw it on the schedule. You’ll have to tell her you can’t make it,” my father replies, straightening his collar.

“Make Jack do it,” I say. “I have to go.”

I’m supposed to be the sole guest at Alyssa’s birthday. It’s tradition, even though her mother gave her twenty invitations. Alyssa penciled fake addresses across the envelopes, girls with names like Helga Oligarchy, Genevieve Sabado Domingo, and Helsinki Carpediem. Her mother always pushes Alyssa to make new friends, as if I’m not enough on my own. She licked and stamped the envelopes herself before dumping them at the post office, no knowledge of the nonexistent recipients.

“He’s got a football game. We’re making him stay home tomorrow night if Aunt Jude isn’t better,” dad says.

He puts his hand on my shoulder in what he thinks is a comforting gesture. What it really means is there’s no changing his mind. I’m stuck watching the basement, making sure someone’s here if they arrive.

• • •

We’d been planning the night for months. The Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal are on TV. Alyssa’s mother bought enough felt, cotton, thread, synthetic sculptable plastic, and googly eyes to recreate the entire cast of Sesame Street. She thought there needed to be one puppet for each of the twenty partygoers. Part of me feels bad we didn’t tell her, to save money, but what can you do? Ever since Alyssa and I watched that documentary on the guy who played Elmo, we’ve known our calling. We’ve got a great premise: it’s a combination of Pan’s Labyrinth and Gilmore Girls, a real tight sister drama with eyeless monsters roaming near the front porch, incapable of finding the door thanks to previously mentioned attributes.

I stand in the kitchen, cellphone in hand, looking over the schedule on our refrigerator. My father’s name is crossed out for tonight. Mine’s scribbled in place. For tomorrow, Mom’s got a little question mark next to hers. After that it’s a repeating pattern for the next month: Jack, Carly, Mom, Dad. Jack, Carly, Mom, Dad. We know it won’t take another month. I can’t see it taking more than another week.

I hear my father’s car pull out of the driveway. Mom’s at the coffee shop with her book group. Jack’s asleep. I decide to call Alyssa.

“Hey,” Alyssa’s voice croaks through my phone’s speaker, half asleep.

“Happy Birthday!” I scream into the receiver.

“Ugh,” Alyssa sighs and hangs up.

I redial, laughing. She answers. Quickly I stammer Don’t hang up, it’s actually important! She stays on the line.

“What’s going on? You couldn’t wait another hour?” she asks.

“No. We have to change our plans. The party has to be at my house.”

“Let me guess, your parents need you to watch the basement again?”

“Yup.”

“When are you going to tell me why you have to watch it? This crap’s ridiculous. It’s like a bad plot point in an R.L. Stine book.”

“I know. Maybe tonight if you’re lucky.”

She hesitates. I know she’s running through options in her head. Some guys from school asked what she’s doing for her birthday, each offering alternate date ideas. Who really wants to see Death of a Salesman performed by old farts at the community theater? Derek should have come up with something better. Others were more clever and I know she has a thing for Mike, but she can’t pick Mike over me. That’s not how we’re supposed to work.

She clears her throat.

“Fine, I’ll get my mom to bring stuff over at five. Does that work?”

“Sure. Will she give you a hard time?”

“I doubt it. When she sees no one’s showing up, and my only remaining friend is imprisoned elsewhere, she’ll have to bring me.”

“Good. See you then,” I say. Before I hang up, I yell Happy Birthday! once more for added effect.

My brother tosses in his bed overhead, springs groaning under his weight. I can hear my father’s voice at the back of my mind saying it’s time to program my watch. I set a dozen alarms to go off every hour, reminding me I need to check the basement. I unlatch the deadbolt and swing open the door. Steel plates cover the back of the wood. Dad says it prevents fire from sneaking up the stairs. I have other theories. The stairs are narrow, the way they are in old houses. I hold onto the wooden banister, climbing down. There’s a light hanging from the ceiling a few feet in. I grope about blindly until I catch the cord and pull. The basement floods with dull orange light.

The walls and floor are made of brick. At the far corner, beneath another dangling bulb, are two raised concrete rectangles. Each is hollow, reaching down to bare earth below. Above these, leaning against the wall, are thick slabs of steel, a system of bolts and locks running along their borders. I know the drill; drop the steel in place if they start to move. You can’t do it too early, or they won’t grow to maturity, and they won’t die like they have to. It sucks planning your life around the arrival of monsters. I’ve asked my father why we can’t burn them ahead of time, but he always gives the same reply.

“That’s how it’s always been,” he says, pointing to the schedule, insisting we follow the plan.

I walk over to the short concrete walls and peer in. Skeletons slowly sprout from the black soil, unfurling like peapods germinating beneath damp paper towels. Ribs first, then spines snake down the length of the pit. It’s not so bad until their watery organs start to bloat, filling with whatever gunk pumps through their veins. They’re dark purple, like variously sized eggplants that burp and shiver.

That’s behind them now.

Pink and white muscle flourishes from joints and junctures. It looks like they’re rug burned all over, raw and blistered, but healing. You can never tell how fast the stages will pass. It’s different every year. You only have to worry when the trunks begin to unfurl, when the pointed teeth at their tip puncture pale gums. Right now, they’re stumps. They shouldn’t wake tonight. Three more days if I had to guess, and I’m pretty good by now.

I kick the metal paneling in the corner and listen to the vibrations shake through the steel. The locks sing with shrill voices. Then there’s a grunt, faint and guttural. I whirl on my heel and stare down into the holes. Thankfully, neither have stirred. The panels are heavy and Jack won’t hear me screaming for help. I know I can do it on my own, but last time I pulled my groin and couldn’t go to dance lessons for weeks. How am I supposed to get the lead in Swan Lake if I hurt myself again? This is my year.

I bend over, inspecting welded loops lining the edge of the holes in case I have to loop the chains through after all. Nothing more than cobwebs come away on my fingers. I watch as a swath of skin winds further down the trunk of the left one, inching along like a slug. My puppet’s going to look like these guys when they’re fully grown. I haven’t seen anything like them on the internet. Viewers will think it’s original, not some mythical doom monster growing in my basement. I’ll leave the trunk hollow so I can move it around with my fingers.

“See you in a bit,” I call over my shoulder as I climb the stairs.

• • •

I stretch the sheet of wrapping paper around the alchemist’s kit I bought for Alyssa. The turpentine actually smells like pine needles. The tube of blood still has a label on it from The American Red Cross. Everything seems authentic, although I think the chunk of sulfur is just fossilized poop. There’s a sticker wrapped around an empty vial at the back of the kit: Due to recent regulations by the FDA, we no longer include lead in our packages. We’re not saying this empty vial is for the lead you will procure on your own, because that is against the rules and bad for your health, but an empty vial always comes in handy. I pull the last length of wrapping paper over the kit and crisscross the seams with as much tape as I can. I don’t want to make it easy for her.

Last year she encased my present, a book by H.P. Lovecraft, in a cross-thatched labyrinth of grocery bags, pulling one over the next so they formed a jigsaw puzzle with the book at the center. I counted more than a hundred bags. It’s our tradition to make it a challenge, so I unwind a complete roll of tape until the final stretch peels back paper from the core.

“Awesome,” I say, dropping the present on the kitchen table.

“What’s that?” my brother asks from the stairs, his voice phlegmy.

“Alyssa’s birthday present,” I reply.

“I hope you bought your girlfriend something nice,” he says, tearing a box of Coco Puffs from the cabinet and emptying them directly into his mouth.

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Hey, I’m not judging. I’ll be supportive either way. You didn’t buy her one of those massagers from the mall, right? Everyone knows what you actually use them for.”

At this, he laughs, spitting gobs of mushed cereal across the Formica countertop.

“You’re not funny,” I say, hurling the red plastic tape dispenser across the kitchen. The strip of serrated metal teeth catches his cheek, leaving a perfect line of blood.

“You bitch,” he mutters, dropping the cereal box, sprinting in my direction.

Before he can close the distance, I’m at the top of the stairs, Alyssa’s birthday present in hand. I run the length of the hall. His bare feet thump the hardwood floor at my heels. I feel his fingertips swipe through my hair, as I crash into my bedroom with just enough space to slam the door. I lock the deadbolt. He rattles the handle, cursing.

“Screw you. Tonight, I’ll tell everyone I got in a knife fight. All the cheerleaders will dig it. I’m totally getting laid,” he says, giving up, moving down the hall.

“Didn’t need to hear that,” I call after him.

He doesn’t respond in his hurry to return to devouring the rest of our cereal cabinet. He’s wrong, Alyssa and I aren’t girlfriends. I mean, we spend a lot time together, but not as much as we used to. She’s been distant lately.

I always want to tell Jack I hooked up with his best friend Zeke at his seventeenth birthday party, but there’s a line in our sibling dysfunction that shouldn’t be crossed. I’ve only told Alyssa about it.

“Zeke? The one with the beard?” she asked.

“Yeah. It’s not as bristly as I thought. Sort of smooth, like he conditions it,” I replied.

“Do guys do that?”

“I don’t know. But I’m not going to ask. I already blocked his number. Fifteen missed calls by ten o’clock means he’s a psychopath. You should see the picture he sent me.”

“It’s probably the same one he sent Claudia. Is it his dick with a fish tank in the background?”

“Yup.”

“She told him she wanted to be a marine biologist. Now he uses it as his default picture.”

We both laughed. Part of me wonders if it’s unusual to get dick pics when you’re sixteen. That was my first, and hopefully last. I call myself a Romantic. I like drawn-out courtship, poetry recited beneath my windowsill. I don’t think Poe would have exquisitely detailed the male genitalia with his prose in order to get a date. I have my standards.

I kick around my room for half an hour, shoving crumpled T-shirts and skinny jeans under my bed, before the alarm on my phone chirps. It’s been an hour. Time to check the basement without Jack noticing.

• • •

Collapsed cereal boxes surround his unconscious body. Crossed arms cradle his head atop the counter. The second stage of Jack’s hibernation has begun. I tiptoe down the basement steps. I pull the cords hanging from the lights and examine the progress of skin and tissue swarming over squat bones. Not much has changed. Trunks are a little longer, but they don’t writhe like they will in the final stages. No teeth either. So the lights go off and I return to my room to place an order from Hal’s Hoagies, making sure they understand we want our cheesesteaks at six o’clock, just in time for Bowie to make his appearance.

• • •

The next few hours drift by in similar fashion. At some point my mother comes home and reminds me to check the chains and locks. I know they’re not going to show up tonight, but it never hurts to be prepared. You don’t want to be the first O’Sullivan to let them out of the house in two hundred years, do you? Of course I don’t. It’s a stupid question. No one wants to unleash a pair of man eaters into the world, especially if the first “man” they’ll devour is me.

I barely remember stories my parents once told of how we came to possess the house. Something about cheap farmland. The only plot our family could afford, a deal with a dishonest broker, some fine print, and bam, two crypts that have to be constantly watched, little corpsy elephant monsters growing inside. Now the cornfields have been subdivided into affordable housing and we no longer plough the land, but we still have to deal with guests. The only line from the story worth remembering is cover the holes as they wake and they’ll starve to death in three days.

“Don’t make the same mistake as your father,” she says before scooping up a basket of laundry.

“I’m not going to raid your wine rack, if that’s what you’re implying?” I reply.

“No, not at all. It’s just something to keep in mind,” she says before moving away. I hate it when she’s cryptic. I guess it’s a little unfair dad didn’t warn her about the creatures before they got married, but she needs to let it go. She’s never had one of her appendages devoured because she put too much Bailey’s in her coffee.

Later on, Jack rouses himself and throws on his football gear, sprinting out the door in a breeze of stale sweat and clacking shoulder pads. Dad gets home from work. Showers. Makes a pervy joke about mom’s low-cut blouse. Neither of us laugh as he escorts her to the door. Before they go, they kiss me on the forehead, thanking me for sacrificing my night for the greater good of humanity.

“It’s whatever,” I tell them as they leave.

“We love you,” they call in unison, swinging the door closed. Through the window, I watch them disappear down the road, taillights a dull crimson. I check my phone. Two hours until Alyssa gets here. I collect the decorations amassed in my room, stream streamers from the ceiling, and tie a birthday sign across the bottom of the stairs.

• • •

Alyssa shows up while I’m in the basement checking the twins. I hear the doorbell chime, three rising notes disappearing into the otherwise empty house. I take a broom handle from the wall and poke one between the ribs. It doesn’t stir. The trunk is a little lengthier, but still four or five feet off its mark. I poke the other, feeling blubbery skin give under my touch. Thankfully, there’s no movement.

• • •

Alyssa wears a purple dress. A polka dot bandana holds back her brown curls. Two bags of supplies brimming with felt and spools of yarn dangle in hand. Everything about her is dark. Her tanned skin, charcoal converse, smudged mascara dripping down her cheeks.

“Had to resort to crying?” I ask.

“Yup,” she says, smiling, wiping away the gunk marring her otherwise unblemished skin. I watch as her eyes take in the meager decorations, the little puppet characters sketched onto the sign, the twined streamers in her favorite colors, black and red. She chuckles and shakes the bags at me. I grab one and help her carry the material into the TV room.

“Subs should be here soon,” I tell her, sitting down behind the coffee table.

“Great. Have you figured out how you’re going to make our monster?” Alyssa asks, reclining next to me. She hazards a quick glance at her phone before emptying the contents of her bag across the table. A wave of molding wire, latex skin, outlandishly patterned fabrics, pinking shears, and other puppet innards splash over the surface. She picks up a bag of glass eyes and swats my shoulder with it. I recoil, throwing my bag at her which erupts like a felt firework display. In a flurry of motion, she has them arranged in colored piles fading from light to dark.

“I’ve got some idea what he’s going to look like,” I reply, gathering up the pale skin-toned felt.

She nods, hand flitting to the television remote on the couch. A child’s bedroom swept by wind and fluttering curtains fills the screen. Without speaking, we stitch together our characters like the how-to video showed. Hers is a girl with red hair and a green dress who looks like me … if I was made of felt and had Playdoh boobs. Mine looks like the stumpy monsters in the basement, all hairless folds of skin and beady eyes. I wind strands of wire in a long tapering trunk, smashing glass eyes into shards for teeth.

“So, what did your mom get you?” I ask.

“She’s giving me a thousand bucks,” she says, stitching the flexible lips on my puppet doppelganger.

“That’s a ton of money.”

“She says I can put a down payment on a relatively new car or buy a beater like that junky Isuzu Trooper your brother drives.”

“You don’t want something like that. It nearly tips over whenever it’s windy.”

“But I also don’t want to pay three hundred bucks a month just to drive us to school and the mall.”

“So, you’re going to be my chauffeur?” I ask as the alarm on my phone chimes.

“If by that you mean you’ll be my sugar daddy for gas money, then yes. Where are you going?” she asks, watching me walk into the kitchen.

“Got to check the basement, you know, the reason we’re here.”

“Are you going to tell me why?”

“I don’t know, to make sure the pipes don’t freeze, clean the litter box, feed my deformed brother mom keeps chained to the water heater. Take your pick,” I call from the top of the stairs.

“Seriously though … I want to …” I hear her voice fade as my feet touch the bricks at the bottom of the steps.

• • •

When I return, the subs are unwrapped, lying on greasy paper-plates in a meadow Alyssa cleared from the forest of hot glue blossoms and lopped-off puppet limbs.

“I took the money from your purse. I figured you wanted me to,” Alyssa says, eyes on the TV, watching the Bog of Eternal Stench belch fart bubbles. I can tell she’s angry. I planned on telling her about the things downstairs, but it’s hard … So there’s two deformed bags of flesh and teeth growing in the basement that we may or may not have to kill tonight. Judging by their recent growth, I’d start sharpening your knives. Then it brings into question how good of a friend I am to risk her life by having her over. She could die. She could be devoured before The Dark Crystal even begins … or maybe she’ll think it’s cool. It might be just the thing to pull us out of our recent rut. You can never tell with Alyssa.

Instead of going for my sub, I pull her birthday present from behind dad’s recliner. Placing it before her, I sit down across the table, blocking the TV. She pushes the box back at me, glass vials inside clinking against one another.

“How about instead of presents, you show me what’s in the basement?” she says.

“Or you could open this, enjoy the sub, and accept that my family has some dark secret growing down there,” I reply, pushing it back.

“Growing?” she asks, taking a bite of the sub, a tangle of grilled onions tentacling down her chin.

“Well …”

“Remember when I told you I walked in on my mom and that hockey coach doing it in the laundry room?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s my big secret. And what have you told me, about Zeke and his beard? That’s pretty basic.”

“It’s not my fault nothing interesting happens in my family.”

“What do you mean? Your dad mysteriously lost an arm a few years ago, and now you’re saying there’s something growing in your basement. This could turn a fairly mediocre birthday into something awesome.”

“Mediocre … I tried really hard to …”

“Hey, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m having a great time,” she says. “I’m just saying you know how I am with mysteries. I’m not going to sleep tonight unless I see what’s down there.”

“How about this. We finish eating, watch the movies, run a few lines for our first episode, and then I’ll take you downstairs,” I say, praying mom and dad show up to intervene.

She eyes me suspiciously.

“Promise?” she asks, extending her pinky finger. I wrap my own digit around hers and bite my thumb.

“Yup,” I say, extracting thumb from mouth.

• • •

My alarm goes off two times before the movies end. Each trip to the basement makes me dislike my parents a little more. They knew Aunt Jude wasn’t going to get better. She’s a hundred and four, way past the point when she can rally against her seventh bout of pneumonia. I bet they’re down at Swansey’s eating Italian food with corny electric candles burning between them. Who knows what anniversary it might be. It seems like they celebrate them weekly just for the hell of it.

Teeth have pushed through their lumpy gums. Breath wheezes through eggplant lungs. Their eyes are lidded, but they twitch through the last stages of REM sleep.

On the last trip, I wrapped string around their flabby ankles and tied it to the chains on the steel plates. If they start to move, I’ll hear and sprint down in the nick of time, easy as that.

Alyssa still hasn’t opened her present. I know she’s going to hold me to our promise. The credits begin to roll. We have two pages of dialogue written between us. Mostly puns about the blind trust between sisters, how love is blind. Alyssa sighs and starts to pack up the extra puppet material.

“I could have hung out with Mike tonight,” she mumbles under her breath. Mike’s the singer in a punk band that plays the Legion Hall every few weeks. Always off key, never in time, but always fast in a desirable way. Recently, I’ve had to compete with him for Alyssa’s time, something I prefer not to bring up. He’s got tattoos even though he’s seventeen. I think she finds them alluring, rebellious. She’s been texting him sporadically throughout the night, dropping off mid-conversation when alerts pulse from her pocket. I know this one mistake, the broken promise, could sever something. Next year she might take Mike or Tim or Derek, up on their offers instead of hanging with me and my dumb puppets.

I listen to see if I can hear my parents’ Passat pulling into the driveway or the faint jingle of chains. Nothing.

“Don’t pack. I told you I was going to show you the basement, so let’s go,” I say.

Alyssa drops the bag, eyes gleaming as if I pulled the red curtain off a new Mustang on one of those Sweet-Sixteen shows. I hadn’t realized it meant so much to her. Slowly, I lead her to the stairs and through the basement door.

Three stairs down, I turn to Alyssa who stands above me.

“You can’t scream when you see them,” I tell her.

“You want to tell me before we get down there?” she asks.

“I don’t think I can. Too much backstory.”

She nods and follows. All the lights are on from my last trip. There’s no motion from the twine spanning the distance between cement walls and steel chains. We walk to the edge of the twin holes without a word. Alyssa doesn’t gasp when she peers down. The two globular bodies writhe slightly, electric sparks shivering through synapses.

“That’s fucked,” she whispers.

“You see why I get pissed when my parents make me stay home?” I ask.

“Yeah. So, what do you do with them?”

I point to the steel panels. “Trap them until they die.”

“Should we do that now?” she asks, moving to where the metal leans against the wall.

“Can’t. It’s the rule. I have to wait until they wake up. Hopefully it won’t be until Mom and Dad get home.”

At that, the trunk on the left creature blindly gropes about the lip of its crypt, sniffing and snorting as it stirs into life. It curls and unwinds as if stretching muscles long forgotten. Bones and tendons pop from disuse. Alyssa backs away toward the stairs as the rest of its limbs begin to feel about, stumpy fingers rooting through dirt. I wave her back toward the metal, miming a dragging motion toward the hole. She shakes her head, eyes wide with fear. The creature attempts to push itself into a seated position, trunk fully outside the hole, but it falls back. They resemble baby deer when they first wake. Limbs all wobbly. It’s kind of cute in the most terrifying sense of the word.

I tiptoe around the hole’s edge, careful not to alert the thing I’m there. You’d think by now they’d realize what’s waiting for them when they come to life, but they don’t. With one hand on the cold metal, I kick the groping trunk back into the hole. The thing flops out of sight with the sound of a rippling waterbed. I drop the steel into place, hurriedly shifting the edges into alignment. I scramble to tug the chains through the eyelets, making sure the locks don’t get snagged. The monster thrashes against the steel. The metal jumps with each blow, jamming my fingers, nearly knocking me over. Across the crypt, Alyssa threads the other side, hammering locks into place as if she’s been practicing for months.

We manage to get them set as the steel starts to sing with the reverberations of snorting howls. Alyssa brings her palm to her forehead, wiping away a line of sweat. It’s moments like this that I love her. Not in a romantic way. Something like a mother’s connection with her daughter or a farmer’s feelings toward his sheep dog. But I also realize it’s my fault she’s going to die. I hadn’t noticed the second trunk slithering around her ankle, the body of the other creature sitting upright in its tomb. The appendage gives a jerk and wraps around her calf, pulling her toward the opening. She screams. I scream. The thing lets out something between a scream and a fat kid’s hunger cries. I dive across the distance, undoubtedly pulling all the muscles I need for the Swan Lake auditions. I don’t care. I bite the trunk, tearing away strips of flesh in a clean motion. The taste is reminiscent of jellyfish even though I’ve never eaten one. It lets go of Alyssa, recoiling with a throaty wail.

“Upstairs, upstairs, go go go,” I yell, spitting the chunk of pulpy meat back at the creature. It rises, climbing out of the hole. I sprint after Alyssa, taking steps two at a time. I see her at the door’s mouth, staring down at me. She steps aside and I fall onto the tiled floor before she slams the door. The creature’s measured steps weigh on the creaking boards below.

“How many?” I hear my father’s voice ask. “One or two?”

He’s standing above me, his button-down shirt loose around the collar, a glob of something red stains his chest. I knew they went to Swansey’s. He cradles a baseball bat in his remaining hand, letting it drape onto his shoulder like a comic book hero. Mom’s beside him with a golf club, that look on her face saying she wished she married her high school sweetheart instead of stumpy over here.

“Just one,” Alyssa stammers.

“Good,” my father replies.

My mother sighs as my father opens the door and darts into the basement. I hear something heavy plod down the stairs and thud to the brick floor. Mom follows, testing the weight of the seven iron in hand. Alyssa and I retreat to the TV room after my mother closes the basement door, the sounds of a baseball bat clubbing a bowl of Jell-o muffling her steps.

We sit on the couch. Alyssa eyes the puppet I stitched and its resemblance to the thing below.

“That’s where you got the idea?” she asks.

“I guess so,” I reply, grabbing her birthday present from the coffee table.

She takes it, gives it a light shake to set the vials tinkling.

“It’s not a machete is it?”

“Unfortunately, no,” I reply.

“That would have been convenient,” she says, taking out her phone. On the screen is Mike’s number. She hits send, but it goes straight to voicemail.

“Dad’s definitely got everything under control. You don’t need to call anyone,” I say as mom’s yells rise through the floorboards, criticizing my father for ordering dessert and his slow driving habits. The sound of heavy concussions break up their conversation.

“I hope so. No one wants to die on their birthday,” Alyssa says, checking her phone again, typing off a quick text. I stare at the light from her screen, face creasing into a deeper frown. Alyssa glances up before I can look away. “Do you have a problem with me texting Mike? You can say it if you do.”

I chew my bottom lip. I’ve never outright said it, that we’re growing apart, that all the time she spends talking to her guy-of-the-week detracts from our relationship. I tell myself it’s not jealousy, but that isn’t quite accurate. I miss the weeks we’d spend every night together, each weekend marked by another adventure, or a movie marathon of films we’d watch a hundred times.

She half-heartedly outlined our YouTube pilot as if she never planned on filming it.

It’s terrifying watching our friendship sputter and drown after ten years, devolving into mediocrity and forced connections. But I can’t say that to her, not today. I want to live the illusion a little longer. I don’t know where she’ll spend her next birthday, but I doubt it will be with me. For tonight, I’ll lie, pretend everything’s fine, that years of closeness isn’t dissolving before my eyes.

And who’s to say we’re going to make it to her next birthday anyway?

“No, it’s completely cool. I like Mike. Text away,” I say, trying to listen to a sudden spattering of footsteps on the stairs. They’re heavy and quick, not like the monster’s, but also not like my parents’. It could be either. I unearth the pinking shears from beneath a pile of puppet scraps. The sharp edge glints in the reflective TV light. Alyssa returns to her phone, reaching out for Mike to save her, her fingers tapping a gale across the screen. There’s no way he’s getting across town quick enough to meet whatever’s trudging up the stairs. For now, Alyssa only has me.

I rise from the couch and cross to the kitchen. Standing before the basement door, shears outstretched, I wait for the handle to turn.


Corey Farrenkopf lives on Cape Cod with his wife, Gabrielle, and works as a librarian. He is the fiction editor for The Cape Cod Poetry Review. His work has been published in The Southwest Review, Catapult, Tiny Nightmares, Redivider, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Volume 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. To learn more, follow him on twitter @CoreyFarrenkopf or on the web at CoreyFarrenkopf.com