The Trade, p.1
A Short Story
Marla Bowie LePley
Copyright 2012 by Marla Bowie LePley
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of
the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission from the author.
“Someone died in that house a long time ago,” Shorty whispered. He couldn’t take his eyes off the looming silhouette. I could see his fat lips twitching. His fear was unmistakable. I couldn’t help wanting to smile.
“That’s what I heard, too,” Doby agreed. He was a pale, freckly kid that never said much of anything unless it was to agree with what someone else said. If it weren’t for that one, despicable trait, I might have liked him, because otherwise, he was a pretty good guy.
“You’re not scared are you?” I asked.
“Not if you keep your promise and split the treasure,” Shorty said.
“Yeah,” chimed in Doby.
Jake and I looked at each other and smiled. If I had a best friend, he would be it. But I preferred to think of myself as a loner. Those two dork were in for a big surprise. Thinking back, I couldn’t believe I was actually able to talk them into coming with us.
From the road, the Old Leoni House stood black against the darkening sky. The picture perfect vision of a haunted house, complete with a full moon glowing through bare-boned trees. A wind stirred the dried leaves around us and rattled the twisted branches to and fro, as if warning us to stay away. When the wind died down. A strange silence settled around us.
“Come on. Let’s get on with it,” I said. We trudged up a rising mound of earth to the house. The only sound was the crunching of twigs beneath our feet. I couldn’t shake the sensation of stepping on dried, dead beetles.
We halted at the base of the steps that led to the porch. The house felt wickedly alive. The windows, black and empty, reminded me of soul-less eyes and the porch awning, an open jaw, waiting for unsuspecting prey. The doorway, ripped bare of a door, seemed like a throat waiting to swallow us whole. For a moment, I wavered, feeling like maybe we were the prey. Luckily, Shorty’s sniveling brought me back to the reason I was here.
“I changed my mind. I don’t want to do this,” he whispered. His second chin quivered like Jell-O.
“We have to,” I said. “Come on. There’s nothing to be scared of.” I tried to sound brave.
A strong gust of wind hit. The house creaked so loud and so long that I could have sworn it was growling. Shorty turned to run away, but I caught his arm and held fast. “No you don’t.”
“It’s now or never,” said Jake. He started toward the doorway. I steered Shorty around by the shoulders. I felt them slump under my hands and he complied. Silently, we followed Jake. Each step groaned as our feet pressed down on them. It seemed like a long time before we reached the door. No one wanted to be first. Not even me.
“Where exactly is it?” Jake whispered.
“The note said it would be in the lion’s den,” I recalled from memory. The note was in my pocket, but now it was too dark to read.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“We’ll have to figure it out once we go in. Everyone turn on their flashlights.” Shorty, Doby, and Jake crowded in behind me, pointing a flood of light at the doorway. I guess I was going in first.
The smell caught me off guard as we entered. It reminded me of a dead cat I found under the deck last summer. Mom said it had probably been there for a couple of weeks. Part of its face had been chewed by a rat. A rat eating a cat. Ironic now that I think about it.
Our flashlights flew in different directions, scanning the room. Broken furniture littered the floor. Patches of dirty red wallpaper was still stuck to the walls. Some animal had used the corner as a toilet. Or maybe some person. A stairway slanted up to the dark, forbidding second story.
“Hey, look.” It was Shorty. His flashlight pointed at the handrail. On the end was the head of a lion. Jake let out a whoop.
“It’s up there I bet,” he said, barely containing his excitement.
“I’ll bet it is, too.” Doby said in awe, his hand reaching out to touch the lion’s head.
“Let’s go. Everyone be careful,” I warned. I wanted them to get there in one piece.
I was first, again, and I could hear Jake directly behind me. The house settled as another gust of wind blew in. We froze. When nothing happened after a few seconds, we started up again. About half way, the near silence was shattered by Shorty’s head-splitting shriek.
“Shorty!” My voice was part scream and part whisper. Jake and I pointed our flashlights back down the stairway. He was sitting on one step with part of his leg stuck in the one below it.
“Are you alright?”
“Do I look all right?,” he wailed.
“Don’t move. We’ll get you out.” I carefully retraced my steps.
“My leg is stuck!” His voice quivered. I pulled at big splinters of wood.
“Why does this always happen to the fat kid?” Shorty moaned. Snot and gooey tears ran from his nose down to his lip. He wiped the whole mess on his sleeve. “Always the fat kid,” he repeated.
Jake and I worked together, trying to make the hole big enough to pull his leg out. Doby kept his flashlight on us from a couple steps above. Suddenly Shorty began thrashing around.
“Something touched me! There’s something under the stairs pulling on my leg,” he screamed.
“Come on guys, help me,” I hollered. Doby jumped down to us a few steps at a time. We all grabbed hold of Shorty and yanked. With a heavy thump, we sat down hard on the upper steps as his pudgy leg came free. I shined my flashlight on it. Blood seeped from what looked like the distinct pattern of teeth marks. I pulled the light off it before anyone else noticed.
“I want to leave now,” Shorty yelled.
A long, low moan drifted through the house.
“What was that?” Shorty was about five seconds from bolting down the stairs and through the door, with Doby right behind him. Even Jake seemed shook up.
“It was the wind,” I said quickly. “Just the wind. Come on guys, we can’t give up. We’re almost there.” Somehow I had to convince them to stay.
“This is getting too creepy for me,” said Jake.
“Very creepy,” Doby said. His eyes were as big as silver dollars.
“We’ve already come this far. We’re close. Just think, guys, treasure! To buy whatever we want! I can’t do this alone.” They looked at each other.
“Then let’s get it over quick!” Shorty said.
“Super quick,” repeated Doby.
“The Lion’s Den?” Jake said, pausing. “Did the note say anything else?”
I pulled a square of folded paper out of my pocket. I opened it and shined my light on it.
For the treasure I will trade,
the delights of tender fare.
The Lion’s Den will provide
jewels and gold beyond compare.
“What does that first part mean?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s go see if we can find this Lion’s Den. You guys with me or what?”
“I guess” they said. I stepped over the hole, treading as lightly as I could, and reached the top of the stairway first. No matter what, I had to keep them moving. I couldn’t get the treasure without them.
Shorty came up next, resigned to continue on, w
We tiptoed down the hall, inspecting each door we passed. I would know which one it was when I saw it. The others followed my lead.
We came to the end of the hall. The last door, solid and wide, had the head of a lion poking out where a peep hole would have normally been. A metal doorknocker dangled from its toothy mouth.
“This is it,” I said in awe. I put my hand on the doorknob. It sent heat up my arm and awakened a hunger in my soul. I had to have what was inside that room. I could feel it burn within me. The door opened by itself.
“I don’t want to go in,” said Doby, the one who never had anything of his own to say. I glanced at him in surprise.
“Whoever doesn’t go in doesn’t get any of the treasure,” I said. “Look, I’ll even go first.” I walked through the threshold. They reluctantly shuffled in behind me.
When we were all in the room, I closed the door and slid the metal bolt silently shut. They were so busy looking around, they didn’t even notice.
“Look,” said Jake. I followed his gaze. There was a huge hole in the floor, black and empty, and unnaturally deep. It clearly didn’t go down to the first level of the house, but somewhere else. Somewhere not of this world.
“That’s creepy. Is the treasure down there?” he asked. Alarm came through clearly in his voice.
“I don’t know. Let’s look.” I edged closer. We all stood along the rim of the hole. A faint red glow pulsed from way down deep. Shorty’s rasping breath quickened. I could hear the roar of a hungry beast, but it seemed I was the only one. That was the sign.
“Sorry, friend, but I have no choice.” I quickly shoved Jake. For the treasure, everyone was expendable. He scrambled to grasp something, anything. Doby was the nearest thing he could grab before he fell screaming, into the hole. What luck! Two for one. Poor Doby, I thought, he didn’t even have time to react, arms and legs flailing as he disappeared into the abyss. Then I remembered my task wasn’t done.
I looked up at Shorty. He seemed paralyzed, his chin quaking under his gaping mouth.
“Y-y-you pushed him,” he whispered. Only disbelief kept his fear from becoming full -ledged panic.
“It’s waiting for you now, Shorty. It’s already tasted your blood. Can’t you hear it calling?”
He backed away from me, but with his wounded leg, he was no match. I dragged him kicking and screaming to the edge. With one powerful shove, he went over like a beached whale being pushed back into the ocean.
I pulled out the note to read the rest of it.
When the meal has been served
and the house is fed,
find the treasure that you seek
inside the lion’s head.
I didn’t have to look very hard to find the lion’s head. It was one entire wall, with the fireplace as the mouth. And in the center sat an old iron chest. I smiled at my treasure. It was a good trade. A very good trade.