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Who Knows What Evil Lurks? : We do. Think killer mushrooms. Think crafty spiders. The winning entries in our scary story contest will leave you begging for more. : The Ice Devil

October 31, 1994|WILLIAM POUNDSTONE | Poundstone, 39, is a Los Angeles nonfiction writer

Ted reread the sign outside the Halloween haunted house. "What do you think that is?" he asked Cesar.

"A guy in a block of ice," Cesar said. "It's a rip-off."

"He's dead?"

"Of course he's dead , moron."

Ted paid the money and went inside. An open vault was set in a dismal hallway. Blue-tinged ice filled the vault. A network of cracks and bubbles clouded the ice. It was impossible to see anything more than the outline of whatever creature was inside. A vague hand (claw?) came within inches of the surface, frozen in a death grip.

"Welcome," said the attendant. "I am Mr. Plinth. You are privileged to gaze upon an authentic and educational aberration of nature. Gaze upon it and never be the same again!"

"What is it, exactly?" Ted asked.

"Some people see an angel and some see a devil. I think people see whatever they want to see. That thing in there, it changes. And sometimes you can hear creaking noises, like that thing is calling to someone . . . like it wants out of the ice. I've heard it!"

"What do you think it is?"

Plinth's laugh revealed crooked, tobacco-stained teeth. "An excellent question! Is it the Abominable Snowman? A Sasquatch? Who can tell? A man in Nevada accused me of sewing a sea lion's head on a dead monkey! I have spent the last 27 years studying this thing, and if anything, I know less than when I started."

"You satisfied?" Cesar taunted after Ted left the haunted house. "I told you it was a rip-off."

"Have respect for the dead," Ted replied.

"You idiot. My father saw the exact same thing when he was a kid in Mexico, only then it was supposed to be the body of John Dillinger. They keep sending that hunk of ice around the country. They tell people in one town it's a Bigfoot. They tell guys in the next town it's something they pulled out of a flying saucer. I heard it's just a dead bear from a circus somewhere."

"Then why are they making such a big deal about it?"

"Because people are stupid enough to pay $2 to see it, that's why."

Ted was silent for most of the walk home. "I wonder if anyone's ever melted the ice down to see what's in there," he said.

"Of course not," Cesar insisted. "The guy knows it's a bear."

*

The crumbling mansion used for the haunted house had not been occupied in years. Ted had heard that you could get inside through a rotted back door. That night he found his way in with a flashlight. The refrigerator's hum led him to the ice devil. Ted pulled the electric plug free of the socket. He poured salt on the ice to speed the melting.

"I don't know what you are, Mr. Devil," Ted whispered, "but I'm going to find out."

Ted hadn't bargained on how long it would take the ice to melt. It took forever for just the top half inch to turn to cloudy liquid. Ted could see the "claw" a little better--that was all. As hours passed, Ted slumped on the floor. Gentle dripping lulled him to sleep. . . .

"WHAT WAS THAT?!?" Ted awoke suddenly. Was someone in the house? He didn't see anyone. Ted leaned over the vault. The ice was nearly all gone now. Ted's flashlight beam picked out nothing except a few dead leaves floating in stale water.

The vault's refrigerator chugged into action. It had been plugged in again. Ted turned, too slowly. Something as cold and raw as a beef liver wrapped around his head and held it under the water.

*

Mr. Plinth arrived late the next afternoon. He found muddy footprints leading away from the vault. "Kids," he cursed. He shook his head and checked the vault.

The ice devil had changed again. It glowed like a haunted gem. Plinth blinked and saw the source of the glow. The devil's hand clasped a flashlight. Its beam cut through frozen swirls of bubbles. Plinth gulped from his pocket flask.

"Well, I'll be the devil," he muttered. But now Ted was.

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