Anna set the steaks down on the ground and leaned forward, eyes squinting in the gloom so she could make out more details of the floating lump of flesh in the closest jar. “Now what in the Hell are you?” There were bits of hair floating freely in whatever preservative it had been sealed in. It’s limbs were misshapen and indecipherable; it had tiny little hands that seemed to jut directly out of its body while its legs were impossibly long, as long again as its body.
“Anna?” Lawrence called out. “Are you okay?” The stairs creaked and thudded beneath the weight of his footsteps, but she paid him no mind, the bottled monstrosity before her holding her attention completely. “You didn’t fall or anything, did you? Anna? …Jesus Christ, what the fuck is that?” he shrieked
A circle of light illuminated the dead thing in the jar, and Anna gasped at the sudden revelation, all bones and fur and teeth and rotting flesh. She looked away from the thing, over her shoulder, and Lawrence was a dark shadow emitting a blinding light from his center. “Turn off that damn flashlight! It’s hurting my eyes.”
“Sorry! I’m sorry.” Lawrence aimed the flashlight at the ground, and Anna stood there blinking, the world a blurry picture that refused to resolve itself properly for her brain.
“Well, since you’re here with a flashlight, change the bulb.”
“What the Hell is that?” Lawrence asked again, his momentary lapse into contrition having given way to fear once more. At least it was a quiet, more tempered fear than before.
Anna turned back around. “It’s just a rat.” By the bright light of the flashlight, she saw that the thing in the jar was, in fact, just a rat. A particularly large rat and an especially deformed rat and a partially dissolved rat, but at the end of the day, just a rat. The other jaws contained similarly mundane specimens: more rats, a squirrel, some fish, some insects. One of them had some sort of tiny fetus in it, possibly a dog. That was a little more nauseating than the rest, but only a little.
Anna sniffed andturned back to Lawrence. “What’s with the freakshow?”
Lawrence’s were still firmly locked on the jars, his complexion looking paler than usual in the glow of the flashlight and the gloom of the garage. “Lawrence!”
He jumped, made eye contact with Anna. “What?”
“Why do you have a bunch of dead things floating in formaldehyde or whatever in your garage?”
“Well, obviously they’re not mine!”
“Whatever. Why are they here?”
Lawrence frowned, his eyes darting back to the jars for a moment before quickly fixing themselves upon Anna once more. “They, uh… They must be my uncle’s.”
The silence hung in the air as the dead creatures watched them from their glass cases. Anna crossed her arms and arched a single eyebrow. “You going to elaborate on that?”
Lawrence looked to the things in the jar and back at Anna, and his eyes went wide as he realized how he’d been acting. He stood up straighter. He took a deep breath. He shined the flashlight on the jars, and his mouth went from slightly open and betraying his fear to tightly closed and speaking of disgust. “My granduncle Benjamin. He was a scientist. A researcher for the government, actually. When he retired, he bought the land out here and had the cabin built to his specifications.”
“And where is he now?”
“Hand me those light bulbs, will you?” Lawrence aimed the flashlight and pointed. Anna turned and saw shelves laden with bulbs, mouse traps, insect poison, all manner of home and gardening essentials. There was a scraping sound as Lawrence dragged a stepladder over to the center of the room and set it up underneath the single socket in garage. He unscrewed it, traded it to Anna for a fresh one, and smiled in self-satisfaction as the room lit up with bright, fluorescent glow. The smile turned once more into a frown of disgust as he looked at his uncle’s belongings in the corner, though.
With the room illuminated, Anna could see that there was much more on the workbench than the specimen jars. The entire wall behind the bench was lined with various tools and instruments stuck onto a pegboard where another house might have held power tools. There were graphs and charts and note cards on a pinboard, each one of them requiring a Master-level class in physics and chemistry and biology to comprehend. The bench itself was covered in beakers and tubes and burners. Anna slowly turned and examined the room to find that every wall was much the same. More specimens preserved in jars. More indecipherable notes and diagrams on the walls. Unlabeled pill bottles and vials of powders and tinctures. Bookshelves lined with notebooks and binders and old textbooks and the odd Latin pieces: “De humani corporis fabrica” and “Malleus Maleficarum” and “Liber Sacer,” whatever those were. This isn’t a garage. It’s an honest-to-God lab. “Jesus, look at all this. What the Hell did your uncle research?”
“I don’t really know,” Lawrence said as he stepped to examine the clippings on the wall (still giving the jars a wide berth, Anna noticed.) “I didn’t really know him. I think my mom and dad took me visit him once when I was a kid, and then they didn’t really talk to him after. He was a weird guy, that’s all I know.” Lawrence leaned in close to read something on the board and frowned.
“Uh-huh. So where is he now?”
Lawrence didn’t turn to look at her. “Oh, he’s dead. Didn’t leave a will and didn’t have any kids, so the cabin passed on to my dad.” Lawrence turned. His eyes drifted downwards. “Hey, come on. Don’t leave the steaks on the floor. That’s gross.”
Anna looked down at the steaks at her feet and sniffed. “They’re still wrapped in butcher paper.”
“Still. It’s gross.”
Anna pointed at the jarred fetus, it’s half-lidded eyes regarding her with a cool indifference. “And that isn’t?”
Lawrence followed Anna’s finger and winced as his eyes met the fetus’s. He shook his head and leaned over to pick up the steaks. As he turned and started walking back up the stairs, he announced, “Come on. I left the burners on and I don’t want the place burning down.”
“So why didn’t you ask Madison to watch them when you came down here?” Anna grumbled as she followed him.
“Because I didn’t expect to have to give you a breakdown of my family’s history. And besides. She’s got her door shut, and I didn’t want to bug her.” Anna rolled her eyes. Lawrence blushed, but to his credit, only for a moment. “Now, come on. Are you going to come upstairs or are you going to stay down here with the dead things?”
Anna looked back over her shoulder at granduncle Benjamin Steinman’s laboratory. It was too perfect, she decided. It was the stereotypical mad scientist’s lab. It was like something out of a story or a movie, carefully and deliberately constructed to scream “creepy.”
Anna smirked to herself. It was all so painfully obvious. So, this is why you and Ted came up a day early. Lawrence Steinman, what kind of sneaky nonsense do you have planned for us?
“I’m going to turn off the light,” he called down from the top of the stairs.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m coming, I’m coming.” She walked up the stairs and shut the door behind her, leaving the books and the jars and the instruments to the darkness.
Word Count this Post: 1,276
Total Word Count: 8,271/50,000