“Ickle Nockt Rect.” The old man swiped at the spit dribbling down his chin, missing it completely. Grey and white stubble covered his face, his greasy grey-streaked hair hanging down onto his shoulders. He cocked his head to the right, listening, as though he were being spoken to, though no one had said a word. His clothes were ragged, an old olive drab army jacket with over-sized pockets with equally over-sized holes in the bottom of them from years of holding who knows what, covering a once white t-shirt with a Mountain Dew logo. His dingy blue jeans hung on his waist and sagged in the butt and crotch. These were stained in just the right areas to indicate they were less dirt and more something else. The rancid smell of stale beer oozed from his pores and did little to diffuse the stench of not having a bath in who knows how long. He reached his bony hand up and placed it against the wooden door in front of him and repeated, “Ickle Nockt Rect.” From behind, one of the young men who had brought him up to the house, sniffed at the air and scowled.
“Geez, this guy smells worse than you do, Dez.”
In the room to his right, Dez Greene rummaged through a dresser parked against the wall. He opened one drawer, then another, dumping the contents out onto the floor, sifting through it with his foot. Both boys wore their letter jackets, navy blue with white sleeves with a large “S” on the chest, identifying them as attendants of Southfield High. Fastened to the letter was a metal pin in the shape of a football, worn only by members of the Southfield Vikings football team. Dez was the starting Mike, a swollen defensive back of six foot and two inches with scholarships pinned to his wall at home with letterheads from Penn State and Michigan. He would have a few more months before he needed to make a decision, though it was a given he would go to the Nittany Lions like his dad had done. The other man was Roger Kline, Vikings starting QB and recently named all-state MVP. Scouts had touted him as an unrefined Peyton Manning minus the ability to read the defense. Dez didn’t see it, but he wouldn’t tell his friend that. The two had been friends since their freshman year, when they had both tried out and made the JV team.
C’mon Dez. I think this guy just loaded his pants. Aw! He stinks! I’m not touching him.”
Dez abandoned his search and sauntered out in the hall.
“I couldn’t find a key. I guess we’re going to have to bust it down.”
“Well, let’s do this and get out of here. The last thing either of us need is to get nailed on a B&E charge.”
Dez screwed up his face. “Man, you ain’t gonna get busted. Besides, your daddy’ll just bail you out again. Let’s just do this.”
He grabbed the old man and pushed him back away. The old man stared past him, not dropping his gaze from the door. Dez grabbed the knob and twisted hard. It refused to turn.
“Look around and see if you can find something to break it down with.”
“What am I supposed to find?” said Roger, angrily, looking around. He ducked into the bedroom then back out again. “I’ll go downstairs and see what I can find.”
Dez turned back to the door and thrust his shoulder into, twisting hard on the knob again. Behind him, the old man whispered, “Ickle Nockt Rect.” Dez looked back at him.
“Man, shut up.”
“Ickle Nockt Rect” said the man again. Dez ignored him, stepping back and studying the door. The only light in the hall came from a single bulb at the other end toward the front of the house and another from the bedroom with the dresser. Both cast a pale, yellow glow that stretched dark shadows across the landing.
“Ickle Nockt Rect.”
“Listen,” said Dez, still looking at the door, “I’m not gonna tell you to shut up again, old man.” He reached up to the door molding and felt along it, hoping to find what he was looking for. “The only reason I brought you is to get that old woman off my back.” He looked back at the old man, who had grown silent. He was staring down at the floor.
“Now look. That crazy old bat said you knew where the key was.” The old man remained silent. Dez grabbed him by the coat and shoved him hard up against the wall.
“Tell me where the key is!”
The old man lifted his gaze and stared into Dez’s eyes. A smile spread across his spit crusted lips.
“Key.” he whispered.
Below him, Dez could hear Roger shuffling around, banging doors closed in what would be the kitchen, making too much noise.
“Yes. Key. Where is it?” The old man’s breath stank of rotted teeth that hadn’t seen a toothbrush in months.
“Why do you want the key?” Suddenly the stupor in the old man’s eyes had cleared and a look of stark lucidity washed over his face.
“To get to the money fool! Don’t act stupid.”
“I don’t know anything about money.”
“That old hag said there was close to a million in this house. She was hard up for a fix. She said she would give it up for a score. I gave her stuff, now I want my money!”
“Stuff.” the old man giggled.
“Yeah, stuff. Now, that money is in that room and I want my money. Where is the key?”
Roger came back up the stairs, a long wooden hat rack in hand. “This is all I could find. What are you doing?”
“He knows where the key is.”
“Oh. Well, give it up old man.”
The old man giggled again. “I don’t have your key.”
Dez pulled him away from the wall then shoved him back again, his forearm pressed against the old man’s throat. The old man sagged under the pressure and Dez let him drop to the floor. He sat against the wall, hacking loudly before breaking into laughter.
“You think this is about money?” he croaked. “Do you know who’s house this is?”
“Man, I ain’t playin’ wit you.”
“Do you know who’s house this is?” said the man, his voice getting louder.
“Dez, let’s get out of here. This ain’t worth it.”
Dez kicked the old man in the side, sending him into a fresh fit of coughing. The old man hacked then began laughing again.
“This house,” he whispered. “This isn’t a normal house. You’ve been brought here. You think you came because you wanted to. You came because she chose you.”
“Old man. I’m only gonna tell you one more time. Give me the key!”
“Dez, let’s go.” said Roger, uncertainty in his voice.
“She chose you. She knows what your heart wants. She plays on that, uses it to get what she wants.” The old man raised a bony finger at Roger. “She knows what you want.” He moved to Dez, pointing up at him. “She knows what you want. You want the key. You want what’s behind Door #3. Okay superstar, you got it.”
The old man, clutching his side, lifted himself to his feet. He limped over to the door and placed a shaking hand on the knob.
“Dez, we need to get out of here. This isn’t worth it. There’s no money in there.”
Dez ignored him, not taking his eyes off the old man
“Your friend is somewhat correct. She knows what you want. She knows what he wants. She even knows what I want.”
Slowly he twisted the knob. Instead of holding fast, it turned easily under his grasp. From within the door, there was a loud click as the latch released.
“You see, she’s an overseer. A collector of sorts. It’s like a farmer feeding his livestock.” The old man pulled on the knob and the door slowly began to open. Behind him, Roger took a step toward the stairs. Dez reached past the old man and snatched the door open. On the other side, the wall continued, unbroken. Where he thought to find the open doorway into the room beyond was nothing more than a red brick wall. Suddenly, behind him, Roger began to scream. A flash of movement and Roger’s screams became muffled and wet. He had collapsed to the floor and hovering over him was the old man tearing and ripping at him. Blood sprayed across the walls and landed, wet and warm on Dez’s face and arms. Dez stood frozen in place. His mind stopped. The old man turned toward him. Dez could only stare at Roger, his gaze frozen on where his face had been. Where the old man’s eyes had been were now two red glowing orbs. His head had swollen to twice the size it had been. Strange spikes protruded from his face and head. He let out a low growl of laughter.
“You see,” he growled, “We cannot walk among you in our natural form. We cannot feed without the overseers. In our language, they are the Ickle Nockt Rect. Our caregivers. They know what we want, and what we want, is to feed.”
Dez’s stared at the two red orb-like eyes. He felt the wet warmth as his own urine soaked his crotch and ran down his legs. Somewhere in the distance, a shrill scream filled the air as the old man sprung at him. As the creature’s fangs sunk into the soft flesh of his neck, he realized the scream he heard was his own.