By Judythe Guarnera
Jose attacked the basement wall with his pickax. He must destroy the face, so it never returned.
After hastily departing their previous home, Jose and Lucilla had finally begun to smile at each other again. They were ready to build a life in their new surroundings—until, that is, a ghoulish face appeared on the dingy gray basement wall.Lucilla fled to her mother’s house, swearing she wouldn’t set foot on the property—until her husband had dispatched the face back to whatever hell it had come from.
That first night, Jose’s cold, empty bed, without his wife, made it impossible to sleep. Each time his lids drooped, rustling, scraping sounds—too noisy for rats—startled him awake.
The next day, determined to dispatch the face and expedite Lucilla’s return, he descended to the basement. Jose stood for a moment, staring at the face. Behind the grotesque features, he caught a glimmer of something—something familiar. He shook his head, grabbed the pickax, and began the assault on the wall. He swung—until the pick-ax slid from his blistered palms and dropped to the floor.
Once more, he stared at the wall; not the slightest vestige of the face remained. Mission accomplished. Jose cleaned up the debris and dragged a bag of cement to the wheelbarrow. He repaired the damaged wall, hopeful his efforts would enable Lucilla to forget the horror that had marred it.
An hour later, Jose wiped sweat from his brow and stood back to survey his work. The wall looked as smooth as his face when it was freshly shaven. He allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. His wife could return to their marital bed. How he’d missed her. He decided to give the wall a day to set before he called Lucilla to share the good news.
The next day after work, he descended the stairs with a light in his eye and a spring in his step. At the bottom, feeling a bit nervous, he cautiously approached the wall. The angry, spite-filled face no longer marred the surface. Jose grinned with pleasure—until a light bulb suspended from a wire began to dance overhead, faster and faster. An eerie wail increased in intensity—until it seemed to absorb the air in the room.
The same ghoulish face stared back at him. The sound he’d heard echoed from the gaping mouth. He gasped, and his breath seemed to catch in a freeze frame above his head. His knees shook; he grabbed his chest, as though to keep his heart from bursting out.
“Gotta get out of here,” he mumbled. But his brain failed to communicate with his feet. Jose looked down and watched fresh cement swirl around his shoes. He knew he had to move before it hardened, but fear immobilized him.
The chiming doorbell snapped him from his reverie. The screaming ceased, and the face disappeared. Was all this a dream? Willing his feet to move, he stumbled up the stairs and yanked open the door.
A man, clad in blood-rusty-colored shirt and pants, stood there, his body turned toward the street. When he pivoted, Jose gasped and sank to his knees. The features of the once-slightly familiar face came into focus. The past he and Lucilla had fled had followed them. The face contorted; the mouth opened and emitted a primordial scream.
Judythe Guarnera, editor of the SLO NightWriter Anthology: The Best of SLO NightWriters, has been published in numerous anthologies, magazines, and other publications. Although she claims bragging rights for the contests she’s won, in a moment of candor, she admits it’s been a while. Judythe is the author of Twenty-Nine Sneezes: A Journey of Healing. She contributes monthly to writing newsletters and is available for free presentations at book clubs and at organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis. Judythe is a member of SLO NightWriters, for writers at all levels in all genres; find them online at slonightwriters.org.