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Rickety-Click

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Jun 18th, 2014
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  1. Rickety-Click
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  4.  
  5. "Sit quiet, child, and be good, cuz old Gran's going to tell you a story. Hush up now.
  6.  
  7. The Rickety-Click is a tall thin man. He makes big strides on his long clicking-clacking legs. He has round gleaming eyes and long cold fingers. And when he goes prowling around of a night, on the hunt for little things to gobble up, his bones make this terrible loud rickety-clickety noise. And that's where old Rickety-Click got his name, honey.
  8.  
  9. So if you're ever out late at night coming home through the dark, and you hear a great big clicking-clacking sound coming after you over the hills, you just start praying your little heart out and run all the way home, because as soon as old Rickety-Click gets a good look at you he goes crazy with his hunger and he's liable to chase you all over the world just to sink his mean old teeth into you.
  10.  
  11. But listen here, cuz old Gran is going to tell you what to do. If he's gaining on you, if you can feel his hot breath hitting you in the shoulders, you've got to turn on your heels, spin right around and sing the Rickety-Click song as loud as you can.
  12.  
  13. ''You can't catch me, Rickety-Click''
  14.  
  15. ''Cuz I can hear your bones a-jinglin' and a-janglin'''
  16.  
  17. ''You can't catch me, Rickety-Click''
  18.  
  19. ''Cuz I can hear your janglin' bones''
  20.  
  21. And once he hears those words he'll turn and run like he was scared of the devil. See, that old Rickety-Click hates hearing his own name, and he hates getting caught when he's trying to sneak around of a night. That's all you have to do, sweetie, to keep yourself safe from mean old things like Rickety-Click, and all the other bad things in this world. But I don't think you want to hear what happens to little boys and girls who forget the words of the song when Rickety-Click is on their heels. It wouldn't do for a sweet little thing like you to hear that part of the story. Oh, but you do want to hear it? Are you sure, my angel? I warned you...
  22.  
  23. When the old Rickety-Click man catches you, he'll open his big crooked mouth and smile with his rows of crooked teeth, and his eyes will go big and glowing white just like the moon... do you want me to go on, Lara? He'll lift you up with his big cold hands and hold you in the air and SHAKE you, shake you just like you were a doll, and he'll pull your little arms off your body and he'll pluck out your eyes and peel off your skin and break your legs and bite out your tongue and he'll claw his wicked fingers all over your body till you're as red as a robin.
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  25. Be careful, child. Remember the words. For just as sure as life is long, Rickety-Click is coming for you. So you just hum that song to yourself, and maybe he'll stay away for one more year. Keep your eyes and ears open, my sweet little baby. Don't you ever forget about Rickety-Click."
  26.  
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  28.  
  29. Lara always dreaded hearing that story. She hated the way that the old woman would corner her, the way her frail voice rose as she reached the carnage of the climax, her bony hands clasped tightly together in front of her, old knuckles pushing up through pale skin. There had always been something off about Gran, even before she reached the age when that sort of thing becomes acceptable.
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  31. Lara often wondered why her grandfather didn't intervene when these stories became too grisly. He'd been a peculiar man in his own right, perpetually quiet and withdrawn. Lara remembered the way that he used to look at his wife during her insane stories, his eyes reflecting thinly veiled disgust and a strange kind of hopeless pity. It wasn't long before Lara stopped going over to their house.
  32.  
  33. As she got older, Lara came to the disturbing realization that none of her friends had ever heard of a creature called Rickety-Click. She once sang his song to some of them, and searched desperately for some glimmer of recognition in their faces, but only blank stares came back to her. The Rickety-Click man and his song were not a part of the common mythology. He was something private, something secret. This discovery frightened Lara in ways she found difficult to articulate. Was he a figment unique to the imagination of her family? There was a certain sinister logic to that. She could imagine him slipping quietly down through the generations, like some hereditary disease.
  34.  
  35. Certainly he couldn't be Gran's invention. That thought was too horrible to even consider.
  36.  
  37. Many nights, just before sleep, Lara's mind would drift to him. She would see him traipsing down the darkened suburban street beyond her window, lurking in the shadows of trees, scratching at all the locked doors. She'd hear clacking bones, and the grinding of jagged teeth. And she'd close her eyes and lie awake in the dark and wonder.
  38.  
  39. ''"Why would Gran tell me such a terrible story?"''
  40.  
  41. On some nights she dreamed of him. Not frightening dreams, exactly. Not at first. They were portentous dreams, dreams pregnant with anticipation. He always came towards her through a fog. Staggering along the strange gray horizon, waving his arms in front of him.
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  43. She never ran. She always waited, growing cold, as he made his crooked way towards her. Rickety-Click seemed strangely frail in these dreams. And then he'd get too close, and his eyes would get wide, impossibly wide, full of madness, full to bursting with it, and his teeth would flash white. It was always at this moment that she woke up. And sometimes, in her more childish moments, she would whisper his song to the darkness of her bedroom.
  44.  
  45. ''"You can't catch me, Rickety-Click..."''
  46.  
  47. When Lara asked Gran about Rickety-Click, she always got the same answer. "I told you so many different kinds of stories when you were little," she would say. "I don't know why that Rickety-Click is the only one you remember."
  48.  
  49. ----
  50.  
  51. The truth was, even Gran couldn't quite remember where the story came from. Rickety-Click's origins were an impenetrable mystery to her. She felt that he'd always been a part of her, somehow. Hidden and repressed, sequestered in some uncharted region of her identity. Many nights she woke up, just as Lara did, with Rickety-Click's name on her lips.
  52.  
  53. She'd fumble for the light switch in the dark, confused and vulnerable, as the fog of her dream rolled back. In those moments, she always felt as though he was dancing just out of reach, somewhere beyond the edges of her comprehension. She was an old woman, and very proud, but her dreams of Rickety-Click rendered her witless, and as helpless as a child.
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  55. Her memories were going. On the nights when Rickety-Click came for her she often remained sitting up in bed for long minutes after waking. Her bed always felt too big. That was the first trigger, the first sign that something was wrong. It had been many year's since her husband's death, but there was still no acclimating to that initial, paralyzing shock of waking up alone. His whiskey breath still lingered on his pillow.
  56.  
  57. She'd reach out for his body, and there would be nothing there. The bed felt big, and empty, and cold, and she'd hear grinding teeth and whispered laughter. But eventually the fragments of her life would come home to her. The address on her mailbox, and the year on the calendar, and the faces of her grandchildren would all fall into place. And she'd sigh, and feel very foolish, and sink back into sleep. But it was a fitful sleep, and her bones always ached in the mornings.
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  59. Day by day, moment by moment, her mind was slipping away from her. But it wasn't the absence of memory that she feared. It was the thought of what might come to fill the absence, in the end. For when all her memories had finally run out, when the fog rolled in and swallowed her entirely, she knew that Rickety-Click would still be there, capering through the gray expanse of her senility. She could see him, his body contorted like a broken marionette, his lopsided smile gleaming in the dimness. After everything else was gone, she knew he would remain.
  60.  
  61. And one day it occurred to her.
  62.  
  63. ''"He's waiting until I forget the lyrics of his song."''
  64.  
  65. ----
  66.  
  67. All the lights were off when he got home. He stomped through the doorway, kicking snow from his boots, fumbling blindly for the coat rack, fingers clenching around nothing, trying to make sense of textures in an alcoholic haze. A sudden burst of pain shot through him as he stubbed his toe against the wall, and he wailed like a vengeful ghost. He was a high school janitor, and the ring of keys on his hip jangled as he staggered into the unlighted kitchen.
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  69. For a moment he leaned against the oven, motionless as a gargoyle, and the only sound was the ticking of an old clock in an adjacent room. He saw, or thought he saw, a pile of filthy pots and pans festering in the sink.
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  71. She woke up to him howling and pulled the blanket up to her chin like a child. He threw open the bedroom door and looked at her for a long time, breathing heavily, his gaze steady. His wife was beautiful, then. It would be many years yet before anyone would call her Gran.
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  73. She looked at her husband and forced a quivering smile. He was a tall man, and very thin, but there was a wiry strength in him. And when she looked into his eyes she saw a limitless madness that terrified her. He took a step forward. The keys jangled. She cried out wordlessly. And then his long, cold fingers were upon her.
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  76.  
  77. Lara sat across from her grandmother. The old woman was motionless. Her forehead rested against the cold windowpane of the nursing home. Her hands trembled feebly, her eyes were foggy and unfocused. Looking into them was like watching milk spread through water. Lara held her hand. It had been a long time since Gran had responded to any human contact, or recognized anyone who came to visit her.
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  79. Lara stood up to leave, and as she did, the old woman began whispering the lyrics of a familiar song.
  80.  
  81. ''"You can't catch me, Rickety-Click..."''
  82.  
  83. Lora swiftly crossed the room and threw open the door to the hallway. The song followed.
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