Dinner Bells

Photo by RealMenShootRAW.
Licensed CC0/Public Domain.

The chimes laugh.

The window shade, coarse and old, chafes Mort’s fingers. Tug. Release. Tug. Release. But it only moves down, brushing the chimes as it goes. The rude, tinkling chuckle continues.

Again, he reaches up to the rolling mechanism at the top of the window and fiddles with it. It crumbles a little, but doesn’t move. Like the nail holding the chimes in place, like the hinges on the front door, like the keyholes, like the screws on the filthy toilet, like the whole damn house, it is rusted in place.

Mort yanks on the shade. It rises an inch or two, then stops.

Was it always stuck?

Grandmother Morris made that window a decorative nook long ago. Mort had only ever seen the chimes hanging with some dried flowers over the closed shade. Dead flowers crunch under foot. The shade sands his finger. The chimes laugh.


He never asked.

He never asked about the window with the chimes. He never asked about the flowers or the shade that was never opened, or about anything in the run-down mansion or the wild lands about it at all.

He didn’t ask because he didn’t care.

As a child left unsupervised for long summers in a too-old and very likely haunted mansion, Mort would have much rather been at home watching a movie about a too-old and very likely haunted mansion. He explored the house, not out of curiosity, but out of boredom and a desire to avoid the too-old and very likely crazy old woman who made decorative nooks out of unused windows.

He never found anything interesting.

The flowers slip underfoot. A drop of blood stains the sharp edge of the shade. The chimes giggle.

Crazy woman!

When he couldn’t avoid his grandmother as a child, he did his best to ignore the funny way she talked and the crazy stories she told, none of which he remembers now. His mother said that Grandmother Morris was old and could do or say whatever she wanted. She said that he was put off by his grandmother because she was very old and children are often put off by the very old. But, she had told him, they really should respect their elders anyway. Mort showed respect with silence.

If he could help it, he didn’t talk to her at all. And because she was funny like that, she didn’t seem to mind. She didn’t talk much to him either, except when neither one could avoid the other.

The first thing he did when he moved in after she died was take down all flowers and the silly trinkets. He would have removed the chimes too, but like the shade they were stuck. The nail and the chain on which they hung had rusted, and held fast when he tugged.

I’m going to cut them off with a chainsaw!

But that must come later. For now, he is determined to make the shade, and the entire house, functional. It is a window none will see, in the washroom that hasn’t been used since there were servants living in an attic that hasn’t been used since the rest of the house forgot it.

But he will not have it broken. He will not live in a rusty old antique. He was not a child who thought old things were curious. He is not an adult who thinks they are quaint. He liked–then and now–things that work, and serve their purpose. That way, the world makes sense. That way, the world is functional. But Mort doesn’t like to make things work. He just likes them to be working when he needs them.

The shade defies him.

Two buttons on his shirt hang loose. One pops off as he reaches up to beat on the roll at the top of the window. It rolls behind the toilet and pings against the porcelain. One fist opens to tug at the tie that feels like a choker, but it already hangs limp around his collarbone. Frustrated sweat drips from the once-pressed silk armpits.

Fuck it. Can’t see shit anyway, it’s so dark.

One sweaty hand tears the tie off completely and drops it to the dead-flower-strewn floor. Nothing worth seeing through that window anyway.


Somebody disagrees.

The creeping shadows out on the lawn think there is something well worth seeing through the attic window. The shadows had always kept a close eye upon the ancient charm that hung in the old house. It had been still for a long time. The bells were on the inside of the window, untouched by the wind, and somebody had been very careful not to let them stir for many years.

Now they stir. Now they tinkle, laughing gleefully. And the shadows remember the sound. But they had never forgotten it.

Who forgets hunger?

No. Though the people no longer remember their dues, the shadows do.

For almost a hundred years they had waited. They had hid, shadows in the shadows catching only what the could. No one knew the appropriate calls anymore. No one remembered what was due the darkness. But someone had rung the bells, somebody had struck the tones that called out the shadows for their sacrifice. They were hungry and came swiftly out of the trees, over the lawn, following the ancient summons. Careful in their excitement, they crept towards the house. They growled in hunger and ground their teeth in anticipation.


Mort lay in an ancient bed under blankets that smelled a little like potpourri and mold.  The creaking of the old frame hid the long nails scratching on the steps.

He was miserable and cold.  But despite his discomfort, he was tired and soon fell asleep.  He slept deeply and without waking.

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