Saved the best for last.
The third ghost tonight comes with rules.
When GREMLINS premiered, it took many parents by surprise. Spielberg was hot off of ET, and the commercials pitched Joe Dante's masterpiece as this cutesy family movie. Gizmo was plastered all over toy stores, T-shirts, cereal boxes, storybooks with read-along 45 lps. All this marketing was misdirection because GREMLINS is, at its heart, a powerful, satirical horror film that's still impactful and poignant.
I'm not going to rip it apart here—we'll save that for the CC's Dungeon Inferno (wink, wink)—but what I will say is that the franchise's first film deftly blends comedy and horror while appealing to the mainstream. Not an easy accomplishment.
It breaks rules, and I like that.
Horror is often shunned, ridiculed, and GREMLINS is so self-aware that it becomes brilliant in its execution. It's almost like a sick joke that looks you dead in the eye while taking your wallet; its magic is that you feel good about the encounter long after the frostbite has set in.
It leaves you wanting more.
That's where this little ditty comes in.
I've taken our beloved characters and taken them down a dark path. Straying more towards the horror realm, my take on Gizmo's world isn't funny at all. I intend to frighten little children, much as the first did, except I've left out all the goofy gags.
So, the third ghost arrives to finish the terror.
Break the rules.
Happy holidays, lovers.
Tucking three, crisp hundred dollar bills into her pocket, Chris couldn't believe that her overprotective parents were actually going across the country without them. The whole afternoon could have been a crazy dream or a nightmare.
Grandpa, a thousand miles away, had collapsed in the basement while tinkering with one of his many inventions. Grandma found him and freaked out. Booking an emergency flight, Mom and Dad placed her in charge of her thirteen-year-old brother Steven and the big family secret in the attic. Then, generous amount of money.
What was going on?
She handed Dad a suitcase. Worry creased his forehead.
Smokey, the family Maine Coon, rubbed against Chris's legs, purring. She picked her up, stroking her long, gray hair. Life must be easier for cats than teenage girls, especially one who couldn't have a normal social life.
"I'm counting on you, Chris."
"You have to follow the rules."
Ug, the rules, the rules. Always the rules.
"I will. I always do."
"I still haven’t fixed the roof, so if it rains, get him out of the attic."
"I will, Dad." She couldn't help the tone in her voice from reflecting her thinning patience.
"And keep up with the dehumidifier. It's got to stay dry up there."
"I got it. I got it."
Dad squeezed her arm. Mom carried two more suitcases into the hall, setting them beside the door. Steven, as usual, trailed closed behind her. Since crawling age, Steven followed her like a lovesick llama.
"But when are you coming back?" Steven asked.
"A week," Mom said. "Ten days, tops. We'll probably see you next Tuesday."
"Any word?" Dad asked.
Mom ran her fingers through Dad's gray hair. "Not since they got him to the hospital."
"Is grandpa going to die?" Steven's eyes watered, but Mom brought him close.
"Grandpa is going to be fine. The heart attack isn't that serious."
Chris recognized the lie—Mom's shaky voice betrayed her words.
Mom hugged her.
"Are you sure you can handle the house and Steven?"
Chris gave a thumb's up.
"And what about our friend upstairs?"
Yes, the friend upstairs, the reason her life could never normal. How many times had their friend upstairs prevented her from having any other friends for real?
It wasn't fair.
"Mom, I'm seventeen. Next year, I'll be in Warner University and living on my own. I got this."
"I trust you."
The words swelled inside of Chris's chest. Finally, her domineering parents saw her as grown up instead of a dumb little child. She couldn't contain the smile.
"Here." Mom gave her a small, four-leaf clover. "For luck."
A car honked outside: their cab to the airport.
"That's us, Kate," Dad said, gathering the luggage. "Remember the rules, you guys."
"Okay," Mom said, "Grandma's number is on the fridge. We're on flight 1984 to New York. There's a brief layover in Atlanta before we get to Kingston Falls tomorrow afternoon. If you have any problems, call our cells."
After a flurry of kisses and hugs, Mom and Dad vanished out the front door.
"Can we order pizza?" Steven asked.
"What time is it?"
"Sure, it's early enough. Gizmo will probably want some, too."
The Mogwai sat in front of a 22" CRT television set, watching government-engineered piranhas terrorize a river resort's grand opening. The carnivorous fish nibbled on the swimmers; green water bubbled red. Gizmo, having witnessed enough carnage first-hand to last several lifetimes, flipped the channel to a gameshow.
Gizmo settled into the small couch Billy had built and leafed through a superhero comic book. Though aliens had Misfit X, the caped protagonist, trapped on their mothership, good would always triumph over evil. He turned the page, longing for 3D images.
The trapdoor leading into the second floor hallway descended, and Billy's kids ascended the ladder into the attic-turned-bedroom. Smokey followed, sliding on the last rung before pulling herself into the room.
"Hey, Gizmo." Chris's smile brightened the dark room.
Steven presented a paper plate with three giant slices of pineapple and ham thin crust pizza. "We brought you dinner."
He rested the meal in front of him. Salivating, he checked the LED alarm clock on the bookshelf beside his bed.
Nine-fifteen, over two hours before midnight.
Humming an ancient song, Gizmo ate, savoring the flavor. Mr. Wing would have never let him have junk food. Compared to the Peltzer's relaxed lifestyle and indulgences, the old man had been running a prison.
Smokey sniffed at the pieces before vanishing behind Steven's legs with a chirrup.
Chris sat cross-legged on top of a pile of newspapers Billy had collected since the '80s, beginning with Kingston Falls' gremlin attack. Anytime he suspected the reptilian deviants were behind a disaster—plane crashes, explosions, car crashes, the flooding of New Orleans—he saved the papers and searched for clues. Most of these catastrophes were nothing more than terrible tragedies, but once in a while…
She scratched that hard-to-reach spot behind his ear.
Though he could communicate with Billy and Kate with ease, the children didn't yet understand his language. In time, they would mature. Maturity equaled wisdom. Wisdom meant understanding. And understanding bridged the worlds between humans and Mogwai. Chris almost possessed the edge needed for them to converse. A few more years, and she'd have no problems understanding him. Gizmo longed to share ideas with her.
"Yum yum," he said. The children's faces brightened. He didn't speak many human words, but the ones he knew always pleased the Peltzer kids.
Steven flopped on the twin-sized mattress underneath the circular, stained glass window boarded up to prevent the sun's rays from entering. Smokey joined him, balling up by his head.
"He's really hungry," Steven said. "He needs a mini fridge up here so he can eat whenever he wants."
Gizmo burped. He didn't need or want a mini fridge. Normally, he ate at the table with the rest of the family, sitting in a booster seat so he could reach the plate and utensils. If they dined early enough, Billy would bring a snack to the attic, and the two old friends would talk until lights out.
Gizmo loved those evenings the most.
Over the years, Billy provided loyalty and friendship. Mr. Wing and other previous human companions had feared the Mogwai, keeping him locked away from the world in a cramped wooden box. Their precautions, however, were wasted. Sooner or later, some simple twist of fate would spawn trouble.
Billy was different. He treated Gizmo like an equal.
Sure, there were a few missteps along the way, but as he grew into adulthood and began a family of his own, his devotion never faltered, and he'd proved capable with the responsibility.
But time wreaked havoc on humans.
Where Mogwai lived many centuries, the human lifespan mimicked a match: burning bright but brief. Billy's youthful pep had given way to middle-aged complacency. Settling down, he focused on art, family, and life. His step had slowed, his smile softened.
Losing him would be tough. Harder than the others.
Time was catching up to Gizmo, too. He'd spent centuries with humans. Lately, he lacked the energy to do much of anything other than read, watch TV, or play video games. Maybe he wouldn't outlive Billy.
"If it rains," Billy said, "He can sleep in my room with me and Smokey."
Chris rested a plastic four-leaf clover beside Gizmo.
"I swear," said Chris, "this has been the worst St. Patrick's Day in the history of the world."
"I'm sure worst ones exist."
Gizmo wiped his hands clean with a paper towel and returned to the comic.
The slimy aliens had restrained Misfit X to a floating slab and injected a virus into his muscles. Loaded with their DNA, the shot altered Misfit X's chemical makeup, transforming him into one of his heartless captors. As the serum rearranged his molecules, the beings oversaw the horrid metamorphosis. The last panel on page thirteen showed four pairs of angry red eyes glaring at the defeated superhero.
"What is Gizmo reading?" Steven asked. "It looks like it's scaring him to death."
"Let me see that." Chris took the comic from him, flipping through the pages.
Gizmo squeaked. He reached for the book, begging.
How is Misfit X going to escape?
"It looks like any other stupid comic." Chris turned a page. "Here is an ad for X-ray glasses. I wonder if they really work."
"Look." Steven motioned to the dehumidifier. "The red light is on."
Chris unfolded the poster in the center of the comic out. "The bucket needs changing."
"I got it."
Steven carted the collection bucket from the base of the dehumidifier. The machine automatically shut off.
Misfit X is in real trouble.
I've got to know what happens.
Steven, carrying the bucket by the handle, inched across the room to ladder. Gizmo stopped worrying about Misfit X and watched as he passed the TV. A busty blonde missed the answer to a trivia question.
"I don't know what the big deal is. Mom and Dad need to trust us more with—"
Smokey darted underneath Steven, tripping him. The bucket's detachable handle snapped and toppled, spilling water everywhere.
"Uh-oh." Gizmo tried avoiding the wave, but the water came too fast, splashing against his side.
His fur soaked up the liquid.
His skin burned.
Stomach churning, Gizmo fought vomit as agony ripped through him. He crumpled, biting his lower lip and banging his fists against the wooden floor. The pain. Insides bubbling over, the burning boiled into four distinct spots on his back before tearing free. Four bouncing fur balls erupted from his back and shoulders, taking the pain with them.
His entire body ached.
Chris scooped up Gizmo, cradling him.
"Are you okay, Giz?"
"Chris, you gotta see this."
Gizmo didn't need to look. The water spawned four new Mogwai.
Chris had grown up with the warnings: no sunlight, it'll kill them; no water, it makes more of them; and never, never feed them after midnight—it makes them monsters. Dad had preached the rules again and again, but all those warnings didn't prepare her. How could they?
It happened so fast.
"I—I didn't mean to."
"It's ok. Just an accident."
Gizmo, long ears bent down, trembled in her arms.
"What are we going to tell Mom and Dad?"
"Don't say a word. We have a few days to figure this out."
Chris didn't have an answer. She'd been in charge for only a few hours. How did she mess up so fast?
"I think we're in serious trouble."
"I think they're neat," Steven said.
"What are we going to name them?" Steven took pride in naming every animal the family had brought into the house, including Smokey.
"You can't be serious."
"Blades." Steven pointed at the largest Mogwai. Black and white fur covered his body, and three fans of white, spiked hair topped his head. His green eyes burned with intelligence.
Steven reached out to touch Blades, but the Mogwai snapped at his fingers.
"Better not touch him. He needs to get used to you first."
Gizmo dug into her chest, whimpering.
"What about the other ones?"
"I think the albino looks like Pinky, the cartoon lab rat that tries taking over the world."
She chuckled. With its large ears and pink eyes, the albino did resemble a rat.
Pinky followed Blades around in the same manner Steven tailed Mom. They whispered to each other in incomprehensible, high-pitched gibberish only they understood, chuckling.
Chris didn't like their sneaky titters.
"And what about them?" Steven asked.
The other two Mogwai bounced around the room, centering their attention on Gizmo's toys. The brown one with white patches crashed a metal motorcycle into a plastic racecar, giggling like a maniac, while the gray one whooped and squeaked as it flew an electronic starship into asteroids on a handheld video game.
"They aren't focused like Blades and Pinky." Chris scratched Gizmo's head, behind his ear. The poor thing still shook. "They seem to wander."
"What are the two characters in that book you're reading?" Steven asked. "The friends hitchhiking everywhere?"
"On the Road. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty."
"Sal and Dean sounds perfect to me."
Sal and Dean played tug o' war with a squeaking rubber chicken. The head ripped off, and Sal fell on his rump. Dean sniggered, pointing.
"They're crazy," Steven said.
"Let's put them up overnight. What do you think, Giz?"
Gizmo groaned. Chris hated his pain.
"Get a box from downstairs." Chris set Gizmo on his chair. "Maybe a few more slices of pizza. We'll keep them up here so Giz can watch over them. Tomorrow we'll show them the rest of the house."
Steven vanished down the ladder.
While Sal and Dean tossed a ping pong ball back and forth, Blades and Pinky continued whispering by the Dad's newspaper pile. Their clandestine communication didn't sit right with her. What were they up to?
The ping pong ball went wild, hitting her forehead. The four newest Mogwai erupted.
Gizmo's lower lip trembled.
Dread tugged at her stomach.
If her life had been difficult having to hide one of the damned things from the rest of the world, she imagined how complicated concealing four more would be.
She'd never have a normal life and, worse, Mom and Dad were going to kill her when they got home.
Gizmo cuddled Smokey on the bed. Though the purring usually soothed his frayed nerves, not even an occasional lick from her scratchy tongue took his mind off the new Mogawi. He couldn't make out Blades and Pinky's conversation, but he knew no good would come of it.
No doubt they planned on making the transformation.
Gizmo never understood the wicked impulses every sentient creature experiences. His heart overflowed with peace and love, a rare trait in his race. Most Mogwai hated their initial incarnation, opting to unleash their darker, stronger selves.
When fur gives way to scales, destruction and carnage follow.
Chris gathered the new Mogwai and placed them in a tall cardboard box. Blades, the new batch's leader, surprised Gizmo by not fighting when she scooped him up. His piercing eyes remained locked on Gizmo, a subtle threat simmering under the jade glare.
He's already planning trouble. Chris, why can't you see it?
After she had collected them all, Steven gave them each a slice of pizza. The Mogwai devoured it, hooting and hollering, tossing the crusts over their confine's walls. When they finished, they stomped their feet and chanted, "More, more, more."
"No, you guys," Chris said, picking up their refuse.
"Yum-yum." Blades pounded the side of the box with his fists. The others joined in, chirping and hollering.
"It's getting too late. We don't want any accidents."
Gizmo shook his head. She had no idea what they had done.
They need a cage that locks.
Gizmo babbled on, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not communicate with Chris. He missed Billy—he'd know what to do.
"All right, Giz," she said. "You're in charge. Make sure our new guests don't get into any trouble."
Gizmo gasped—she asked him to move the stars.
"I could stay up here, too." Steven peered in the cardboard prison, and the Mogwai went crazy, shouting and banging the sides of the box.
"No, sleep in your room. We'll put up the ladder in case they manage to get out of the box. I'm pretty sure Dad Mogwai-proofed the attic."
A sinister whoop from the box.
Chris scratched behind his ear and stroked Smokey. "Good night, guys. See you tomorrow."
Chris climbed down from the attic. Steven offered a small wave before joining his sister. The metal ladder clanged when the trapdoor shut.
Giggles, then whispering.
Smokey stretched and yawned. Gizmo yawned, too.
He returned to his Misfit X comic but couldn't focus on the panels.
He closed his eyes, ignoring the low cheers and cackles.
Chris found the living room trashed. Somehow, the new Mogwai had escaped the attic and turned the TV room into a playground.
Cartoons blasted on the flat screen.
Movies, records, and books scattered the floor.
The cushions were stripped from the couch and lined up against the coffee table, a Mogwai fortress.
Chris moved a pillow and peered in. A stuffed hippo hit her in the face.
"Get out." Blades spit, missing her face by a few inches.
"This isn't funny, guys. Do I need to lock you in the basement?"
Her threat sent them into hysterics.
Great. Her other friends went to shopping malls and dated horny boys while she wrangled furry monsters.
Seven ran down the stairs. "Have you seen Smokey? I can't find her anywhere."
"I'm sure she's around here somewhere. Maybe she got out."
"Go check, will ya?"
Steven nodded before heading out the front door.
Chris retrieved Smokey's hard plastic cat carrier and a spotlight from the basement. Blocking the long sides of the coffee table with the couch and end tables, the Mogwai's merriment subsided within the fortress's walls, shifting to murmurs. She rested the cat carrier, door open, at one end of the Mogwai cushion castle and kneeled at the other, spotlight ready.
"Okay, you tiny buggers. You want to play rough?"
She flung the cushion and turned on the spotlight. Bright light flooded their hideaway. Burnt hair pinched her nostrils.
"Bright light," one of them screamed.
The four bolted out of the opposite end, racing into the cat carrier. Chris leapt over the coffee table and slammed the metal door shut, ensnaring the mogwai.
The Mogwai screamed and banged the grate. Chris took a pillow and held the door in place. Their small hands pressed against the other side, but they could not bite or scratch her.
Steven entered the house, cradling Smokey.
"Found her hiding under the grill. She didn't want to come out."
"I caught them. I think we should keep them in the basement till Mom and Dad get back. They're going to wreck the house if we let them loose like Giz."
"I don't think I like them. They're not like Gizmo at all. You need to call Dad, let him know what happened."
"They have enough on their plate. We can handle this." Chris prayed that they really could. Maybe after Steven went to bed, she could take the cat carrier outside and leave them for sunrise…
"Come on," she said. "Let's get this mess cleaned up and make lunch."
Blades rattled the carrier door. A small padlock that the stupid girl had affixed to the metal grating held fast, trapping him and his brothers.
She'd pay for that.
Sal and Dean tickled each other, their playfulness turning into a jostling match after Dean shoved too hard.
Blades smacked them both. The wild ones settled down, glaring at each other.
Blades searched the carrier's sides for weaknesses. In the far right corner, a small crack spider webbed where one of the screws fastening the lid to the base had been turned too much. He pointed the fracture out to Pinky, and as Sal and Dean wrestled, Pinky chewed at the flaw.
With the new Mogwai locked up in the basement, the rest of the afternoon carried on like normal. Chris and Steven cleaned up the living room, wiping clean any evidence of the four furry troublemakers.
Chris made enough peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to feed herself, Steven, Gizmo, and their new guests. She made sure the trapped Mogwai ate all their share so there weren't any leftovers for after midnight. Blades sat in the front of the carrier, watching her every move.
Upstairs, she drew the blinds while Steven brought Gizmo down to watch movies.
Chris noticed that even though they sat through one of Gizmo's favorite comedy films, his attention constantly shifted to the basement door.
"Don't worry, buddy," she said. "They're locked up tight down there."
"When Mom and Dad get back, they'll know what to do."
Smokey curled up beside Giz, purring and pawing. When Giz ignored her, Chris gave the attention-starved Maine Coon a soft stroke on her belly.
After a pasta dinner, another comedy, and music videos, Steven took Gizmo back upstairs and went to bed.
Chris checked on the four prisoners and found them snuggled up together, snoring.
When they weren't running amok, they were adorable.
Maybe she had them all wrong. Maybe they were just ill-behaved stuffed animals and would settle down after a few days. Gizmo acted right. Perhaps they would learn, too. Convinced they had settled down for the night, Chris returned upstairs and fell asleep on the couch during a werewolf movie, dreaming about full moons and silver bullets.
Blades patted the albino Mogwai on the back.
Pinky proved himself a fast worker—it only took a few hours of him gnawing on the crack to make a hole wide enough for them to slip through.
Blades had worried when the harping bitch came down to check on them. They faked sleeping, and the dumb broad didn't search the carrier for any sign of jailbreak.
As soon as the door shut, they pried the last few chunks of plastic free.
Blades nosed his head through the opening and smiled at all the tools and trinkets the basement offered. Chainsaws, axes, BB guns, radios, a lawn mower—how could she have been so reckless?
Heling his brothers escape the carrier, he noted the time on a wall clock.
Though Pinky didn't say much, his loyalty served well. The other two were as dumb as a left toe. Dean pissed on a model airplane, and Sal picked his nose and ate the boogers. Blades smacked their heads whenever excitement got the better of them, keeping the pack under control for fifteen minutes.
When the clock finally ticked past midnight, he led his brothers upstairs.
Blades snuck into the living room first, waving in the others. Sill unable to move silently, their presence roused Smokey.
The feline arched her back and hissed at the brothers.
"Kitty, caca," Blades said.
When she pounced, Sal bashed her head with a mallet.
She howled in pain. Dean covered her face with a pillow, stolen from under the human's feet. The cat struggled, but they held her still as her life slipped away. Though anything but quiet, the assault didn't wake the girl. She rolled over and farted, wrapping an arm over her head.
The Mogwai snickered.
When the thrashing ceased, they dragged Smokey back into the basement, dumping her body in a hand sink by the deep freezer.
Blades took a hunting knife he'd discovered in a tackle box and sliced her belly from throat to tail. He opened the wound, and warm guts slid out. Blood pooled. The Mogwai took turns eating intestines and cat flesh until nothing remained but matted fur, bones, and stringy scraps of stretched muscle which the diabolical quartet hid in the front-loading washing machine.
Belly full, Blades secreted the ooze needed for his slimy chrysalises. Sulfur-laced sweat spilled from their pores. Their fur shed, sliding off their bodies with clumps of green goo. The glop covered their bodies, hardening into crusty cocoons. Inside, their bones liquefied. Soft skin gave way to coarse scales.
Blades smiled, his true form taking shape.
The next morning, Chris's head pounded. Strange visions haunted her nightmares: sharp teeth, cats hissing and shrieking, misshapen monsters, and blood dripping from the walls. Grandpa turned into a one of his inventions, a gnarly machine with spiraling corkscrews and lasers for eyes. The images still haunted her as she searched for aspirin in the upstairs hallway bathroom she shared with Steven.
Is this like a hangover?
Her classmates had talked about feeling like garbage after drinking too much cheap beer at keg parties. She suspected the throbbing from booze matched her current migraine.
Next year, she'd go to a university, and she'd probably be on her own. There would be plenty of chances to find out there.
She couldn’t wait.
Finally, she'd have a genuine social life. Girlfriends who could stay the night and watch horror movies. She tired of chasing off cute boys with pouty lips. Her body ached to be explored. The blinds would stay open, sunlight would flood the house. Dinner whenever she wanted. In college, she'd take her life back, and those damned Mogwai weren't going to stop her.
Those damned Mogwai.
She'd forgotten the trouble in the basement.
Splashing a handful of water on her face, she headed downstairs to the living room where Steven bounced around like a lunatic.
"Oh, shit," he said. "You got to see this."
In the basement, the Mogwai had been replaced with greasy pods pulsating with new wicked life.
A light green pod rested against the cat carrier, viscus mucus dripped from its sides onto the cement floor. Another green pod, darker in color, rested on top of the washer. The smallest of the pods glistened an eerie yellowish white, as pale as the bottom of a snake. The largest pod, Douglas fir green with bright purple streaks, rested against the deep freezer. Sulphur hung heavy in the air—each breath Chris took tasted less like oxygen and more like burning rubber.
Chris's stomach turned; her head throbbed harder.
"How did they get out?" Chris seized Steven's collar. "Did you set them free?"
Steven tugged away. "No, I swear I didn't. I went to bed after I took Gizmo to his room. When I got up, I went looking for Smokey. I came down here and found them."
"There's no telling how long we have before they hatch. We have to get them out into the sunlight."
"That'll kill them."
"They might kill us if we don't. Help me find something to move them in."
She scanned the room. A bunch of junk and nothing useful.
"I bet that white one is Pinky." Steven took a step closer.
The pale yellow pupa rocked once, hard.
He shot back. "I think Pinky is ready to hatch."
"Then we take it topside first."
Chris dumped clean sheets from a laundry basket onto the sticky floor. Placing the basket by the pod, she reached for the cocoon, pausing before her fingers made contact.
"Are you helping me or what?"
"I'm not touching those gross-ass things."
"It's your fault we're in this mess."
"How do you figure?"
"You got Gizmo wet. Get your butt over here and help me."
Steven dragged his feet to the other side of the pod.
"Okay. We'll each grab a side, rock it into the basket."
"It smells horrible."
"Shut up. Ready?"
"On three. One…two…"
The pod's texture surprised Chris. She expected the moist and gooey, but there was also a velvety quality to the shell, something obscene and soothing to the touch. The creature inside's heartbeat thumped against her palm.
"Disgusting," Steven said. "Hurry up."
The pod peeled off the cement, the Velcro rip accompanying echoed off the basement walls. It rocked again before they tossed it in the basket.
"Grab an end. Let's move."
Together they hauled the pod past the others, heading for the stairs. Steven slipped in the slime, recovering before he dropped the cargo.
"You all right?"
"I got it."
As they started up the stairs, the pod vibrated, rocking side to side. A crack formed across the pointed top, quickly spreading along the circumference of the outer husk.
Chris yanked harder on her end, hoping to speed her brother's ascent, but the pod shattered. A long white arm with three sharp claws reached out and slashed her cheek. She screamed, losing her grip. Basket and hatching gremlin bounced back into the basement where the other pods also cracked.
"Come on." Steven clutched her arm, pulling.
"We have to stop them."
"The sun's up. We still have time."
The pods crumbled.
"We got to stop the water coming into the house."
Steven nodded. "Outside. I know where the cut off is."
He tore up the stairs.
Chris followed, slamming the basement door when she hit the living room. She pushed the coffee table against the door, hoping the barricade would keep the monsters downstairs.
She placed her ear against the door, straining to hear any sign of the monsters.
"I stopped the water."
Chris jumped at Steven's voice.
"Can you hear them?"
"No. Not a thing."
She touched her cheek, realizing how much it stung. The wound left red on her fingertips. "Is it bad?"
Steven shook his head. "What do we do?"
Chris's brain fired a million miles a minute. "Turn on the sinks, make sure the water is out of the lines. Open all the curtains. Let in as much light as possible."
"What about Gizmo?"
"He'll be fine as long as he stays upstairs. When you're finished, get the spotlights."
"After this place is flooded with sunlight, we're going to run those bastards out of the basement, drive them into the light."
Her cell rang, the caller ID confirming her deepest fears.
"Shit," she said, "it's Mom."
"What are you going to tell her?"
She waved her hand, silencing him while she accepted the call.
"How's it going?"
"It's going fine. Everything's normal here." The lie cut her lips like a razor; Steven's eyes widened. "How's grandpa?"
"He's weak, but alive. Doctors say that he needs time to recover. He'll have to change some things in his life, but he's still with us."
"Great. When are you coming back?"
"Well, he's got a few more days in the hospital, but I think Mrs. Futterman is going to help look after grandma. She's had a lot of time since Murray passed. Shame. He was such a nice man. But anyways, I think your dad and I will be back on Monday. Dad's looking at flights in the other room."
"Awesome." Except that it anything but. Two days. Time was running out.
"In a few weeks, we'll return. All of us."
"Let me get back to things. Tell Steven we love him. We'll see you both in a couple days."
"Love you, too."
She hung up and pressed the phone against her throbbing forehead. How coud it get any worse?
"You're pretty much the worst person on the planet," Steven said.
"I feel like it, too. Quit messing around and get some light in here."
Steven took off.
"Don't forget the spotlights."
Within minutes, sunlight enveloped the house.
Steven returned with three spotlights. "Everything is wide open. They come up here, they die."
Chris heaved the coffee table aside and clasped the basement's cold doorknob. Heart pounding, she took a deep breath, flung open the door, and drew back to avoid sharp claws and gnashing teeth leaping from the darkness.
Steven snorted. "There's nothing there."
"Then you can go down first."
"Hell no. You're in charge, remember?"
Sulphur burned her nostrils. She reached for the light switch, but when she flipped it, the bulb popped. This time, Steven jumped.
"We can do this." She wondered if they could. "Come on."
Leading the way, Chris descended the stairs, turning the spotlight on around the third step. Dust motes and viscus smoke billowed in the light's sweeping beam. At the base of the stairwell, the overpowering sulfuric mingled with metallic, damp earth, grinding her stomach.
Her foot slid on a chunk of melted pupa. Steven prevented her from landing in the gummy muck underfoot. Clumps of gelatinous sludge piled where the chrysalises once stood, the melted parts sticking to the bottom of her soles.
Chris probed her light around the room: the rafters, the furnace, the cobwebbed corners.
No sign of the monsters.
"Where did they go?"
Her light fell on the deep freezer. Too cold.
"Chris, look at this."
Steven kneeled in front of the washer, tears spilling.
Chris rushed over. "What is it?"
Her light revealed a bloody mound of bones and fur. Though mangled, the remains were undeniably feline.
"Oh, God." Her mouth dried, filling with bile.
Menacing laugher reverberated behind them.
"They're in the walls—the laundry chute."
She'd forgotten about the shaft leading from the attic to the basement. How could she have been so stupid?
"If they're in there…," Steven said.
"Gizmo," they said together.
Chris pointed to the metal door leading to the chute. "Stay here. Hold that shut. I got a plan."
Grabbing an emergency road flare from Dad's tackle box, she dashed upstairs. Their irresponsibility was one matter her parents would deal with when they returned, but if something bad happened to Gizmo, they—Dad especially— would never forgive her.
She flew to the second story, tearing up the attic stairs.
The Mogwai sat on his bed, reading his stupid comic.
"Gizmo. Thank stars, you're okay."
His floppy ears perked up.
"There will be some bright light in here for just a moment."
He dropped the comic. "Bright light?"
"I need you to cover your eyes or hide for a few minutes."
Gizmo stood and ran to his bed, crawling under his covers.
When the last bit of his fur vanished beneath a thick blanket, she rushed to the laundry chute's metal door and ignited the flare. Bright red light and burning charcoal and magnesium filled the room. Horrific shadows danced in the dazzling light. She opened the door and a white arm swatted at her.
This time, she dodged Pinky's three sharp claws.
Pinky lunged, but the flare's light singed his scaly flesh. Black boils ruptured across his pale arm.
Sulphur mixed with the burning magnesium.
The creature shielded his eyes, screeching.
Chris forced the flame closer.
Pinky lost balance and fell down the shaft, into the maniacal throes of his brothers.
She tossed the flare after him.
The attic went dark, but the flare exploded, sending a fireball up.
The gremlins howled.
Black smoke reeking of Sulphur and burned hair flowed from the laundry chute. Chis tried not breathing, coughing when she inhaled the dark clouds.
When the screaming subsided, she stuck her head in the opening. Fire flickered over a bubbling, molten mess, burning out as she watched.
"Stay down, Giz. I'll be back soon."
Chris hurried to the basement and found Steven rubbing his hands together.
"I'm sorry. I had to let go of the door when it got too hot."
"Are you all right?"
"Did any of them escape?"
"No. Is Gizmo safe?"
"Yeah." She sighed. "We did it. It's over."
Steven rushed over and threw his arms around her neck, squeezing tight. "Mom and Dad are still going to destroy us."
Chis stepped aside, sliding on melted pod.
"This place is a mess. We need to get to work."
"Can we pretend like this never happened? Clean it up so they won't notice?"
"I'll get a new lightbulb while you turn the water back on. We're definitely cleaning. Well, as much as we can before they get back. When they do, I'm telling them everything."
"We'll be grounded until the day you die."
The punishment didn't matter. Everyone was safe; the monsters stopped before they got out of hand. Lying to her parents would be impossible. Time to grow up.
"I was in charge. I'll take the blame. Let's get to work."
They spent the rest of the day getting the thick sludge out of the basement.
Scraping the melted glop out of the chute with a shovel and piling it with the chunks of melted cocoon like fallen leaves, they gathered the slop into four heavy-duty, black garbage bags and carried them to the curbside trashcans.
"Smells terrible," Steven said. "We're never getting this stench out of the basement."
"Just keep working." Sweat burned her eyes. Dried slime clung to her T-shirt.
"It's almost getting dark. I'm exhausted. Can we finish this tomorrow?"
"I guess so. All we have left is scrubbing and mopping. We'll burn incense and hang up some of those little green pine trees. Hopefully that'll help."
"Let's get showers and watch a movie. I bet Gizmo is starving."
Hot water and bubbles sounded amazing. She wondered how much shampoo it would take to wash the gunk out of her hair. She could do her nails during the movie. Hell, maybe Gizmo would let her do his as well.
"All right. We'll finish when we get up."
Steven headed for the house.
Chris followed, a little slower than she liked.
Her body ached.
Was this what growing old felt like?
When the commotion ended, and the basement settled down, Blades crawled out of the deep freezer, carrying a machete he'd hidden with under a box of frozen waffles.
The stupid girl never looked inside.
A good thing, too. If she had poked her head into the icebox, he would have sliced off her funny-looking nose.
Shivering, he opened a toolbox and sifted through the screwdrivers and pliers. There had to be something useful in there…
His pitiful brothers had been sloppy. Hiding together like a bunch of insects. Those dummies deserved to be burned to death. Pinky was a loyal henchman, true, but soon there would be thousands of other gremlins that could serve him, their king. They would take over the town, and then they would find the other pockets of gremlins around the world. no longer would their species be confined underground.
Blades imagined his army and smiled.
No doubt the kids had turned the water back on. He could fill the sink, dive in and inundate the basement with hundreds of green, scaly mischief makers.
He had enough time in that cooler to formulate a plan.
The cold had slowed down his metabolism. He needed time to warm up before he made his move.
The wall clock read 10:15.
Chris admired her shiny black nails. Transparent glitter shimmered as she rolled her hand in the dim light by the couch. She had awesome stretch pants that would match. And a tattered Cure shirt. How would her parents feel if she went full goth?
Eh, she was already in enough trouble.
She offered the nail polish to Gizmo, but he shook his head and watched the cartoon robots fighting on the TV.
"You're really into that show," she said.
"I like robots," Gizmo said.
"I like robots, too."
"What are you two babbling about?" Steven asked.
Steven shook his head, yawning. "I can't keep my eyes open anymore. Ready for bed, Giz?"
Gizmo raised both arms. Steven picked him up.
"Night-night, Chris," Gizmo said. "See you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow."
"Cute," Steve said. "Going on like you can understand each other."
As Steven and Gizmo disappeared upstairs, Chris realized that she could understand the Mogwai. All she had to do was listen.
Dad will be impressed.
Exhaustion washed over her. Hell of a day.
Making certain her nails were dry, Chris shut off the TV and headed for bed.
The witching hour.
Carrying weapons in a pillowcase he'd found on a shelf by the washer, Blades tiptoed through the darkened living room. Such gaudy décor made him sick to his stomach. The couches needed to be shredded into confetti. The TV smashed. The lamps shoved up someone's ass. Then it would look much better.
In the kitchen, Blades rummaged through the cabinets, finding a bunch of useless garbage: bread, cereal, taco shells. He tossed each disappointment over his shoulder.
Peanut butter candy.
He added the candy to the pillowcase.
He climbed the stairs, entering the long hallway. Thick blinds covered a window at the end of the hall. Steps leading to the attic. Soft dance music came from one of the three rooms.
So many choices.
Blades opened the first door on the right.
A soft nightlight illuminated the messy room. Clothes and video games scattered the floor. An electric guitar leaned against a practice amp. A Star Wars poster hung on the wall above the snoring teenager's bed.
After picking up a dirty sock, Blades hopped on the nightstand with a Darth Vader lamp and leaned over the slumbering boy's face.
Steven's chest rose and fell.
Blades attacked, shoving the sock over Steven's mouth while driving his three sharp claws into his throat. Steven's flesh gave. Blood squirted and spilled down his neck, soaking into the pillow and bed. The boy struggled for air, each breath sharper and sharper.
Blades ripped out his esophagus—muscle and tissue pulled up like stretching bubblegum before snapping in his talons.
His body twitched.
Every time his arms flailed, Blades slapped them, slicing them with his sharp nails.
After a knee-jerking shudder, the boy stopped moving.
Another one bites the dust.
Blades stood outside the room with the music. Chris's room—he could smell her cheap make up beyond the closed door. The doorknob wouldn't budge—she'd locked herself in.
He spit on the threshold, vowing to make her death especially painful.
The attic ladder.
Gizmo turned the page of the comic book as a lady on the muted TV helped her half-fly, scientist husband lay under a steel compactor.
The movie matched the hand drawn panels—horrifying.
In the comic, Misfit X had been transformed. The alien DNA wrecked his body, changing the hero into an octopus-like abomination. His tentacles desperately grasped for the alien leader responsible for the conversion, but Misfit X could not stop the extraterrestrial from zapping him with an experimental zombie ray. Misfit X's eyes glazed over white.
Something scuttled in the darkened corner of his room.
Gizmo put down the book.
Scratching in the darkness. The bookshelf scooted forward as something scrambled behind it.
Gizmo stood as paper ripped in the shadows.
A match sparked to life—a gremlin with three spiny mohawks stood on top of the bookshelf, holding a paper airplane.
The gremlin set the airplane ablaze, sending it down on the Mogwai.
The kamikaze's flames singed the fur on Gizmo's arm, sending bolts of pain through his tiny body.
The Mogwai howled.
Another blazing paper airplane spiraled from the rafters. Missing Gizmo's head by a few inches, it landed on Billy and Kate's newspaper collection, on top of a picture of the Clamp Tower taken in the aftermath of a previous gremlin invasion. The papers caught fire.
Blades tipped over the bookshelf.
Gizmo leapt aside before it crushed the small couch.
Books scattered, landing on the burning papers.
Fire engulfed the chamber, setting off the smoke detector.
Though Gizmo could not see him, the gremlin's frenzied giggles increased with the spreading fire.
Steven and Chris—Billy and Kate's children are still asleep downstairs.
Rising to his feet, Gizmo searched for a clear escape. Blades had rammed Christmas and Halloween decorations over the extending ladder leading into the hallway, barricading the main entrance. Billy had nailed thick boards over the circular, stained glass window overlooking Dante Street in order to prevent sunlight from shining in.
He took cover beside the television.
Vincent Price stood over a man-fly trapped in a spider web flickered, warping the image. Gizmo backed away. Onscreen, the spider inched towards the helpless abomination struggling in its web.
A hammer whizzed over Gizmo's head, fracturing the TV.
More demonic laughter accompanied the smoke detector's steady alarm.
I'm to blame for this carnage.
Gizmo dashed for the fire extinguisher underneath a sketch of Kingston Falls Billy had produced while homesick in New York City. How many hours had Gizmo stared at the painting, guilt-stricken with his involvement in its destruction?
Reaching for the extinguisher, a screwdriver pierced the red cylinder. White foam erupted from the tank, spraying the precious chemical in useless confetti streams.
The kids. I have to get them out before the whole house goes up.
Gizmo scurried to the laundry chute.
Blades stepped out from the darkness and hissed. His scaly tri-hawk stood on end; his pointed piranha teeth gleamed in the firelight. Brandishing a meat cleaver, Blade sneered, blocking the Mogwai's escape.
The gremlin slashed, but Gizmo dodged the cleaver and rolled beneath his legs. Blades hurled the cleaver at the Mogwai, and it stuck in the wall beside the chute.
Gizmo opened the hatch, but before he could climb in, Blades snatched him off the ground.
Gizmo thrashed in the gremlin's hands, but Blades grip would not yield.
Blades shoved peanut butter candy in his mouth.
It's after midnight. No.
Gizmo tried spitting out the food, but the candy went down.
Blades forced another handful, making him swallow.
As soon as the candy hit Gizmo's belly, he could feel the ripples across his skin.
Chris sat up, tossing her blankets aside. Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she realized that the buzzing wasn't a residual hallucination from her dreams but coming from the attic.
Christ, what now?
In the hallway, she smelled the smoke. Black flumes spilled from the attic's opening.
She grabbed the fire extinguisher from the hallway closet; her worrywart dad made more sense every day.
Racing up the ladder, she shoved the boxes of decorations aside and entered hell.
The back-half of the room burned. Flames consumed the bed, toppled bookshelf, and Dad's newspapers, creating an unholy ring of fire. In the center of the burning circle, Blades stood over Gizmo as the Mogwai dripped puss, melting into a green ball of goo. When Giz saw Chris, he reached out.
His four tiny fingers dissolved, liquefying and pulling back into a green shell.
"No." She sprayed the extinguisher at the closest flames. "It's impossible. You were all dead."
Blades turned and hissed at her.
She shot the flame retardant at him but he dodged, giving her clearance to put out the rest of the fire.
"I'll kill you again, you son of a bitch."
Blades appeared again, this time carrying Dad's machete.
She aimed the hose at the grinning gremlin. When she pressed the trigger, the extinguisher jammed.
She knocked him with the tank, but the machete found purchase in her stomach. Before the pain fully registered, Blades was back on top of her, twisting the blade in her gut.
Coughing blood, red splattered across the gremlin's smile.
Lightheaded, she wrapped her hands around his head and twisted until his neck snapped.
The reptile fell limp; his body crumpled beside her.
She couldn't move, pain paralyzed every attempt.
Her blood ran everywhere.
Smoke and Sulphur and chemicals from the fire extinguisher lingered in the attic air.
A pod rested in the center of the charred circle.
She shuddered at what was happening inside.
Chris coughed up more blood, powerless.
Gizmo huddled in the foyer, waiting.
"It's dark in the house." Billy's voice came from the other side of the front door.
Gizmo's heart broke.
He had to get out, leave a world he loved behind and face the sun before madness consumed him and trouble began.
"You don't think the kids went out, do you?" Kate asked.
The keys jingled.
"Maybe they're getting something to eat. It's probably nothing."
That's right. Nothing, nothing at all.
The front door opened. Billy and Kate's silhouettes dominated the doorframe.
Gizmo pushed past them, hissing.
Billy dropped his suitcase.
Stopping at the end of the driveway, Gizmo waved his scaly, clawed hand.
Gizmo ran, his sharp toenails scraping the asphalt.
Thunder rolled in the distance.