Out of Time

Library/Secret Room — 1968

aluminum branchMadge was not impressed with the pink, aluminum Christmas tree in the library. Stella seemed to think it was the height of fashion and that their employers had remarkable taste. Madge preferred real trees that grew from soil, not some factory in Wisconsin.

She plucked at the cold metal needles and tried to arrange them in some sort of natural arrangement. Her nose wrinkled in distaste. No matter what she did with it, the gaudy thing still looked like a mistake.

“Hand me the box of green balls, Stella,” she said.

Stella bustled around the room with a cardboard box of painted metal balls. Together, the women untangled sharp metal hooks from a cluster, attached one to each ornament, and dangled them from the limbs of the tacky tree.

“Stunning!” Stella said, clapping her chubby hands. “They’ll love it.”

Madge pursed her lips in disapproval. “It’ll do, I suppose. But I still don’t understand being so rich you don’t decorate your own Christmas tree.”

Stella nodded, her face solemn. “I’m sure they’re very busy. Besides, this is for the party. Maybe they’ll put up one together in another room.”

“Maybe.” Madge turned on the spinning colored lights at the base of the tree and shook her head. “That’s just…awful.”

They gathered up the empty boxes and set them in the corner to put away on their way out. Each took a rag and chose a spot to begin the enormous task of dusting the books and knickknacks scattered around the room.

Stella hummed Christmas songs while she worked, and Madge did her best to tune her out. It wasn’t easy. Stella’s voice was loud, enthusiastic, and three octaves higher than it should be.

Madge pulled out a leather-bound book with some sort of gold lettering on it, dusted it, then put it back on the shelf. She reached for the next book and pulled, but it wouldn’t come out. The book after it came out fine, and she dusted it and put it back.

She frowned and went back to the previous book, wiggling it to pry it loose. The book stuck in place. Madge yanked at it, and the top half slid forward at an angle. The wall rumbled, and a section of bookcases swung out, revealing a dark hallway.

“They know that Saaaaaanta’s on his way.” Stella waved her dust rag in the air, oblivious to the open door on the other side of the room.

Madge cleared her throat. “Stella.”

“And every mother’s child is gonna spy, to see if reindeer–“


“Really know how to–What?” Stella frowned and swung to face Madge. Her eyes grew round. “Where did that come from?”

Madge demonstrated the book lever, closing the door and then opening it again. She wiped her dusty hands on her apron and patted her hair in place. “Should we see where this goes?”

Stella checked the main hallway. “Nobody’s home. We could take a peek. What do you think’s in there?”

“Probably more dirt for us to clean up.” Madge peered into the darkness, shrugged, and stepped through the doorway.

The lightless hall went on several yards, then made an abrupt turn to the right, went on for a few feet, and turned left, ending in another door. Madge stopped, and Stella bumped into her.

“It’s pitch black in here, Madge. We should go back.”

Madge shook her head, despite knowing Stella couldn’t see the movement. “I feel another door. I want to see what’s inside.”

“Well, at least knock first. Somebody could be in there.”

That seemed sensible. Madge wrapped her knuckles on the wood and waited. Nothing. She knocked again. After a few moments, she tried the handle, and the door swung open.

Eerie blue light lit their faces, and the women stared with wide eyes at the room before them. The ceiling towered in the distance out of visual range. Machines hummed and whirred, and tiny lights blinked in yellow and green.

It looked like a secret NASA control room in a cave.

The women wandered through the room looking at machines of all sizes, many with television screens.

“This one must belong to someone in the Navy,” Madge said, pointing to a box that said “Commodore” on the front. It had what looked like a small typewriter attached to it by a cord. Madge touched a button on the box and jerked her hand back. The television screen came to life, yellow words on a black background.

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

Madge looked around, worried that something might sneak up from behind and devour her. She pressed the button and the words blinked out.

“This one has a little piece of fruit on the back,” Stella said. “A peach or an apple or something.”

Madge wandered over. “It’s not as nice as the other one. Smaller, and the typewriter on it is so tiny, I don’t see how people could use it. So flat.” She ran her finger over the keys to get a feel for their strangeness. The screen flickered to life and both women gasped, taking a step back.

A naked woman gazed back at them, smiling and holding a telephone. “I’m so lonely,” the woman said, making a pouty face. “I love to chat. We can talk live for only $9.99 for the first five minutes. We’ve got lots to talk about. What are you waiting for?” The woman licked her lips in an entirely inappropriate manner, then the screen flickered and the message started again.

Stella and Madge looked at each other in horror. “Turn it off!” Stella said. “What did you do?”

“I don’t know!” Madge jabbed at the keys trying to undo whatever she’d done. The message repeated. In desperation, she picked up the machine and realized the screen folded over like a book. She shut it with a snap. “What kind of filthy place is this?”

She left the silent chunk of metal and plastic on the table and closed her eyes to gather her senses. She continued through the strange, enormous room examining objects, large and small. Some were easy to recognize.

Here was an ancient printing press, covered in dust. There she spotted an old Brownie camera.

“Look at this,” Stella said. A large box with a glass door and dials sat at the end of a table. She opened the door and peered inside. “I think I know what this is.”

Madge touched the timer dial with a finger. “I’ve seen this, too.”

“It’s one of those new microwave things, isn’t it?”

Madge nodded. “The last family who lived here had one just like it. When the wife walked out, it was still in the box. I wonder if it’s the same one.” She tapped the side.  “They brought me in to help clean for the new owners. I thought this thing went into storage.”

“I guess you could call this place storage.” Stella closed the door and made a face. “I don’t blame her for walking out. What kind of man brings home a contraption like this? He might as well tell her she’s a terrible cook.”

“I don’t think that was the only reason she left.” Madge scratched her arm in thought. “I cleaned for her a few times. I don’t think she was happy.”

“Nobody stays in this house long. It was probably for the best that she left.” Stella’s face was solemn.

“So much death.” Madge sighed. “This house is very unlucky.”

Stella bobbed her head in a sorrowful, pitying way. “Very unlucky.”

Across the room, Madge stubbed her toe on a small, plastic object. It came to life, jerking toward her and making a high-pitched, metallic bark. Madge let out a yelp and backed up. The robot dog stilled.

High above them, a bone-chilling screech announced the presence of something much larger and much more alive than anything they’d seen so far. She heard a whooshing, and a breeze blew against her face.

In the darkness of the cavernous ceiling, something moved too fast to identify. A bit of leathery wing. A forked tail. Each pass over them showed another piece.

When it came for them, Madge knew exactly what it was. In the low light, she recognized the pterodactyl from her son Donny’s favorite picture book. Neither woman moved, paralyzed by terror.

It squawked and swooped for them. Their paralysis broke, and they ran for the door. Stella fumbled with the handle, and the pterodactyl went after Madge. She ducked. It missed her and flew around the room for another run.

Stella got the door open, and the women stumbled through, slamming the door behind them in time for the creature to bang into the hard wood. The dino-bird thunked against the door, attempting to batter its way through. Madge grabbed Stella’s arm and pulled her down the long dark hallway toward the library.

The warmth of the library didn’t feel safe until Madge slammed the book mechanism into place and the wall slid back to its original location. Stella dropped into a leather chair and patted the sweat from her face with her apron. Madge sighed and sat in the chair opposite.

“No one will ever believe us,” she said.

“Not without opening that door again to show them.” Stella stared at the hidden door with wide eyes.

“Let’s not tell anyone.” Madge patted her hair back into place and rubbed her sweaty palms over her skirt.

“Agreed.” Stella stood up and hesitated. “Except…”

Madge shook her head. “Except what?”

Stella reached into her pocket. “Except, I accidentally brought something out with me.”

Madge groaned. “Oh, Stella, you didn’t.”

“I meant to put it back. But it was so pretty.” She held up a tiny glass bottle, no larger than the kind aspirin came in. It sparkled and shone with miniature lights.

Madge reached for it. “What is it?” Clusters of what looked like glowing froth illuminated the bottle and churned in a slow rotation. “Are they stars?”

Stella shrugged. “I don’t know. But I’m not going in there to put it back.”

Madge glanced at the hidden door and shook her head. “Not on your life. But you can’t take it with you, either. It belongs to the house.”

They stood there for a moment, both thinking. After a moment, Madge smiled and took a piece of thin, silver ribbon from the leftover decorations. She tied it around the neck of the bottle and slid the ribbon over a branch on the tacky, pink, aluminum Christmas tree.

Madge grabbed a box. “Let’s get these put away so we can get out of here.”

Stella sighed in admiration. “Prettiest tree ever.”

Rachel is the author of the urban fantasy Monster Haven series from Carina Press. She believes in magic, the power of love, good cheese, lucky socks, and putting things off until stress gets them done faster at the last minute. Her home is Disneyland, despite her current location in Kansas.

1 Trackback

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.