SHORT STORY: Catherine Cavendish

The Curiosity at the Back of the Fridge

Gather round everyone because the story I am about to tell you is a strange one indeed.

I was introduced to it by an old man who lived on the edge of our village. His name was Robert Clements, but everyone called him Bobby Clem.

Bobby Clem lived in a tumbledown cottage atop a small hill. If you passed by during the day you would swear it was derelict and long abandoned, but at night, a candle burned in every window.

I first met Bobby Clem when I was a small boy. Indeed, I was small in every way. At nine years old, I was shorter than the seven-year-olds — a shy, only child whose mother had died when I was a baby. Dad and I lived together, and my father would work all hours trying to keep food on the table and clothes on my back.

On school holidays and weekends, I was left to my own devices while Dad was at work and I took to wandering off on my own, exploring the many country lanes and shady pine woods.

One day I came across a man with a shock of white hair. He was bending over a trap, releasing a dead rabbit. Job done and prize retrieved, he stood, and towered over me but I was used to craning my neck. The man’s unkempt beard covered his face and neck, leaving only piercing blue eyes and a kindly smile. Dirty, old corduroy trousers were tied at his waist with frayed string, while a threadbare overcoat and grimy shirt completed his appearance.

“What’s your name, lad?” His voice sounded gruff but not unkind. Despite having been repeatedly instructed never to speak to strangers, maybe it was something about his eyes — an innate benevolence. Suffice it to say, I made an exception in his case.

“Brian,” I said.

“Well, Brian. Do you want to come and share some rabbit stew with me?”

I had nothing else to do, and rabbit stew was one of my favorites. Like any boy of my age, anytime was dinner time.

On the short walk to his home, he questioned me about my life and I told him everything, from losing my mother to being bullied at school, taunted because of my height and poverty. All the other kids seemed to have so much more than I did. I told him everything, but all I learned about him was his name. Bobby Clem. And I kind of knew that anyway. He was spoken of in hushed whispers by grown-ups. Robert Clements who used to be a professor at the university. Now reduced to the local down and out. “Stay away from Bobby Clem,” we children were told. “Or no good will come to you.” But I didn’t have any friends. No one wanted to play with me. Bobby Clem was the first person who had taken an interest in me, and I so wanted a friend of my own.

I had passed his cottage many times but never paid it much heed. Now, Bobby pushed open the door and it groaned, swinging wildly on broken hinges, revealing a sparsely furnished room, its rickety table sporting a leg supported by ancient, moldy books. Galvanized buckets stood like sentries awaiting the next heavy rainfall which otherwise — judging by the gaping holes in the roof of the one-story building — would cascade down, flooding the place.

Bobby Clem led me through the room into the kitchen, such as it was. My new friend slapped the rabbit down on a none-too-clean pine table. From the sink he selected two of the least dirty plates and a vicious looking knife. He then proceeded to skin and butcher the rabbit. I looked around in vain for a cooker, but only a fire burned in a small range. A cooking pot, like a witch’s cauldron, hung suspended over it. That’s where our meal would be cooked.

I thought there was no electricity but a sudden, clanking buzzing told me otherwise. In the corner of the room, an ancient, massive fridge stood, plugged into a single socket. Bobby saw me looking.

“Ah, there’s a story behind that fridge,” he said as he carried on preparing our meal. “One Halloween, years ago, a man knocked on my door. It was a raw night, a blizzard blew, and this stranger stood on my doorstep, dripping from head to toe and shivering. I brought him in, sat him by the fire, gave him dry clothes, a blanket and something hot to eat and drink. In the morning, the storm had blown over and the sun was shining. The man was so grateful for my hospitality, he wanted to repay me. I refused to take payment and he made to leave. He called me outside, saying he needed some help with his van. It was a big old cranky thing, and it wouldn’t start. I used to tinker a bit with cars when I was younger, so I checked his engine. Sure enough, there was a loose cable. Once I reconnected it the engine turned over fine and the man was away. I went back inside and there it was.” He pointed his bloodied knife at the fridge. “How he got it in here… Let’s put it down to one of life’s mysteries because it got here somehow, didn’t it? I opened it and it was piled high with everything you could want for a delicious Halloween feast. Turkey, all the trimmings, even pumpkin pie and I’d never eaten that before. Have you eaten that, Brian?”

I shook my head.

He smacked his lips. “Delicious. Hey, it’s Halloween in a few days, maybe your father will let you come and eat pumpkin pie with me.”

I doubted that but, as Halloween was on Friday and Dad was working nights all over the weekend, he wouldn’t have to know, would he?

Bobby chopped up the meat, added carrots, potatoes, herbs and onion and dumped the whole lot into the cooking pot, along with fresh water he drew from a hand-pump by the sink. “There, we’ll let that stew for an hour or so. Are you hungry, Brian?”

My stomach gave a growl. Bobby laughed and I liked the sound. It was tinkly and sincere.

“Now let’s have a look in that fridge. Is there anything in there, I wonder?”

He opened the door wide. I stared at the empty shelves. It was certainly the cleanest thing in that house, except… “What is that?” I pointed to a large black blob that looked a bit like a jelly fish, stuck to the back wall.

“Oh, that’s my friend. The Curiosity, I call him. As it’s so close to Halloween, I thought he might come out. But no.” He slammed the door shut. “Must leave him to his privacy. He doesn’t like to be disturbed.”

“But—”

Bobby put a finger to his lips. “No questions, Brian. You’ll meet him right enough. At the proper time. But it must be on his terms, do you understand?”

Of course I didn’t, but I nodded and hoped that would suffice. It seemed to.

Whatever else Bobby Clem was, he cooked a delicious stew and, a couple of hours later, stuffed to the gills, I made my way home with promises to return on Halloween.

October 31st. It rained. All day, torrents of it poured down. A river ran down the road at the end of our path. Small children cried as their Trick or Treat costumes were ruined or parents decided it was too wet to venture out. I didn’t care. They never included me anyway and for once, unlike them, I had plans I could keep.

I arrived at Bobby Clem’s cottage and the aroma of a delicious meal set my taste buds tingling and my mouth watering even before he opened the door.

“Welcome, Brian,” he said. “We’re all ready for you. Look what a feast we have.”

I stared. Bobby had moved the kitchen table into the living room. It was heaving with a roasted turkey — its skin golden brown — little chipolatas wrapped in bacon, dishes of roast potatoes, vegetables. There was gravy, and the promised pumpkin pie. I never questioned how he managed to create all that in one cooking pot. No questions, remember? Never.

Bobby Clem had cleaned the room so that it shone. Even the floor revealed polished floorboards. The only evidence to the dilapidated state of his cottage was provided by the buckets into which rainwater dripped.

“Some people spring clean. I do mine on Halloween. It’s my ‘thank you’.”

I pondered that while I took my place at the table. “Oh, you mean a ‘thank you’ to the man who gave you the fridge?”

“Not entirely.”

It was then I noticed a third place setting.

“Is someone joining us?” I was a little disappointed. I suppose I wanted to keep my new friend to myself.

“Our benefactor,” Bobby said. “Now you can meet the Curiosity.”

I blinked. There was no one there, but a slithering noise came from behind me, moving closer.

“Don’t be alarmed by his appearance, young Brian. He can’t help that any more than we can help being quite hideous to him.”

I swallowed and dared to look down as the Curiosity slipped past me. It moved on pseudopodia — I had recently learned that word at school where we had studied the life cycle of an amoeba. It thrust out its jelly-like protrusions and made its slow way round to its place at the head of the table. A few seconds later, its head — if you could call the blob a head — emerged. Bobby sat down and proceeded to load the Curiosity’s plate with pumpkin pie.

“He doesn’t like turkey,” Bobby said, setting the plate down in front of his friend. “He has other…tastes. But he adores pumpkin pie. Now, Brian. help yourself. Tuck in and eat. The Curiosity has provided all this fine food for us. Don’t ask me how. It’s enough that he does it. Every year. But only at Halloween. The rest of the year he keeps himself to himself and I…look after him.”

I tried to work it all out in my nine-year-old head. “So, the fridge is his?”

“That’s right. The stranger — I never did learn his name — looked after him. For some reason, the Curiosity prefers to live in there. I suppose the temperature suits him, and he is left alone, which is what he likes. He can turn very nasty if you disturb his slumber.”

Bobby Clem rubbed his hand, and I noticed a scar where his little finger should have been. Odd that I hadn’t noticed it before.

“He sleeps for most of the year. And before you ask, I don’t know what type of creature he is, where he came from, how old he is, or any of the usual things. I know that he exists. That he is. And that’s all you need to know too, Brian.”

From that day on, every year at Halloween, I joined Bobby and the Curiosity for a sumptuous feast. I grew up. Dad died, and I moved into the cottage. Years passed and the place was falling down piece by piece, so I built us this nice new home, with our own generator. We took care of our friend and benefactor together until Bobby Clem passed away last year. He’s buried out in the woods. So now, it’s just me and the Curiosity. He continues to provide me with a Halloween feast and asks so little in return. Merely that I provide him with food for the rest of the year.

And that, my dear ones, is where you come in.

THE END

Boo-graphy:
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. Cat’s novels include: In Darkness, Shadows Breathe, The Garden of Bewitchment, The Haunting of Henderson Close, and the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy (Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients, and Damned by the Ancients), plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse, and Saving Grace Devine.

Her novellas include: The Malan Witch, The Darkest Veil, Linden Manor, Cold Revenge, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, Dark Avenging Angel, The Devil Inside Her, and The Second Wife.

Her short stories have appeared in a number of anthologies including Midnight in the Pentagram, Midnight in the Graveyard, and Haunted Are These Houses.

She lives by the sea in Southport, England with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat called Serafina who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.

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