When Leroy turned sixteen his father asked him to start paying board. He thought this was only fair and found casual work mowing lawns on weekends. His favourite client was Sofia, who was his age but went to a different school. Her parents were divorced as well, and she lived with her bedridden mother. Sofia did most of the housework and was mature beyond her years, and Leroy grew quite fond of her.
A large white guinea pig called Henry lived in a hutch in Sofia’s backyard. He was terrified of lawnmowers, so she took him inside when Leroy arrived. Leroy had to move the hutch to trim the grass that grew around it and move it back to cover the patch of bare earth underneath. At times he resented Henry, who Sofia doted on; she often kept him on her lap and caressed him when they talked.
Leroy and Sofia grew closer and helped each other with their studies. In their last round of exams they both did better than expected, and marked this mutual triumph by going to the high school formals neither would have braved alone.
From there Sofia went to art school, but the worsening situation at home forced Leroy to work longer hours. His father was drinking more and demanding extra board; Leroy knew where this would go and looked for an apprenticeship. Sofia gave him less attention when she was with her fellow students. Though most of them were tolerable he always felt like an outsider. Rhianna in particular clearly disapproved of him, and his life became no easier when Sofia started dressing like her and using the same mannerisms. He did not like her new façade, but his feelings for her never changed.
During one semester break Sofia took a holiday. She asked Leroy – who was not invited – to stay at her house and mind Henry, for her mother was in hospital. Leroy took this well enough for it gave him a break from home.
He went to Sofia’s with a bag of clothes and DVDs. Henry, who had grown enormous, stared at him suspiciously, but relaxed when Leroy fed him. Leroy had resigned himself to a few days on the couch when a potential employer rang. Mike’s new apprentice hadn’t shown up for a project on the edge of town and help was needed urgently. Leroy seized his chance, agreed, and made sure the house was secure before catching an outbound train.
The next few hours were difficult. Mike had strict deadlines to meet and was already well behind. Leroy sweated through two shirts while shovelling earth and clearing lantana. But Mike was suitably impressed and offered Leroy an apprenticeship which he accepted gratefully. He went back to Sofia’s house, showered and prepared a meal – but when he went outside to check on Henry he found the guinea pig was dead.
Leroy’s optimism vanished. What was he meant to tell Sofia? Henry might not have died from neglect – he still had some food and water – but Sofia would never see it that way. Three days from now, when she came home, she would brand him irresponsible and unworthy of her time.
How could he avoid her wrath? He considered total honesty but sensed it would not be enough. Would buying a new guinea pig make things any easier? Then a strange thought came to him. If he replaced Henry’s corpse with an identical live substitute, would Sofia know the difference? His natural instincts said she would, and the repercussions would be worse – but a wild inner voice urged him to try nonetheless.
Leroy spent the next morning working for Mike and the afternoon searching pet shops for a Henry lookalike. It seemed a pointless exercise; every guinea pig he saw was conspicuously smaller and younger. The next day he was close to despair – but the last shop he visited, which was just about to close, gave him a perfect Henry clone.
Leroy spent the evening acclimatising Henry II to his new surroundings. He let Henry II run free in the house so he could learn his way around, then put him in a laundry basket with some of Sofia’s clothes to help him get used to her scent. After some consideration he took the first Henry’s corpse from the fridge. He laid it in a small brass box he had bought from an antique store – Sofia deserved that honour at least – took it to a nearby park and buried it beneath a tree. As he reverently smoothed the earth he felt his guilt and shame subside. No matter what the future held, he had acted out of love.
Sofia came home tired and stressed; a week in a van with four art students had been a fair semblance of hell. She was thankful to be home, with less demanding company, and to Leroy’s wonder and relief, never realised Henry II was a different guinea pig. He seemed a little wary of her, but she put this down to her absence and the strange scents she had picked up on her trip. He was more comfortable with Leroy, but Sofia took this very well. “You’ve been good to him,” she said. “He really seems to like you now.”
Sofia’s mother died that year, and when she had finished mourning she asked Leroy to move in. He was happy to oblige. Life went on calmly for a while, though Sofia’s mother had left an unusual clause in her will: her daughter was to mark her birthdays by leaving flowers on her grave. Leroy always went with her, for he liked the rustic graveyard where her mother had been laid to rest.
Leroy finished his apprenticeship in the month Sofia graduated. She did commission work online while he plied his trade outdoors. Henry II was dead and gone, and Sofia had no urge to replace him. On an otherwise unremarkable morning she told Leroy she was pregnant, prompting a flood of emotions that made it a very memorable day.
Sofia was in no state to tend her mother’s grave that year, so Leroy made the trip alone. The day was much colder than usual, the long drive was lonelier, and the graveyard was deserted. Leroy had just placed the flowers when he heard an unearthly squeal. He jumped – more in surprise than fright – and turned to see a spectral figure looming above the neighbouring graves. It wore long, decaying robes, had gaunt, skeletal human arms, and a wholly incongruous guinea pig’s face. It kept shrieking and gesticulating, apparently trying to frighten him, but it was clearly insubstantial and never shifted from the spot. Leroy assumed it was a prank – one of those distasteful tricks some TV shows played on strangers – but it went on for too long. Recurring cadences emerged from what had seemed like gibberish, giving Leroy the impression he heard some unknown language. He began to feel disturbed and wanted no more part in it. By the time he reached his car the mysterious apparition had gone, but no pranksters showed themselves. Leroy was not far from home when he suddenly remembered Henry.
His first impulse was to laugh. If the mysterious entity was really Henry’s vengeful ghost it was more absurd than frightening – but the more he thought about it the more worried he became. What would Sofia have to say when she next went to her mother’s grave?
Leroy barely slept that night. Work was harder the next day, but instead of going home, he considered sharing his problems with friends. He could not bring himself to do so; they would laugh, or call him mad. Yet one name stood apart from the others. He had never considered Rhianna a friend but had an urge to call her now.
Rhianna agreed to meet him at a café in the city. It was a dark subterranean haunt with strange frescoes on the walls. When he saw her in a corner, she put her cup of coffee down and eyed him disdainfully. “So what brings you here?” she asked.
“It’s about Sofia,” Leroy said.
Rhianna smiled mirthlessly. “You’ve been dishonest, haven’t you?”
Leroy nodded. “How did you know?”
“I’ve felt it for a while now, but I don’t know the details.” Rhianna’s gaze grew more severe. “Why do you want to share them with me when you could be telling her?”
“I don’t want to hurt her,” Leroy said. “I’d like her to know everything, but thought I’d ask you for advice.”
“That’s good enough,” Rhianna said. “What are you hiding? Don’t hold back.”
Leroy told her what had happened. Rhianna was attentive and showed no signs of doubting him, but when he finished his account she was visibly disturbed. “I’m going to need some time for this,” she said over her second coffee. “Can I meet you here again?”
“It shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Good. There’s no need to tell Sofia. We’ve got a lot to deal with first.”
Sleep came more easily that night. Rhianna called a few days later and met Leroy at the same café. “I’ve done some research,” she declared, “and it seems you’re in grave danger. You haven’t earned my sympathy. I’m more concerned about Sofia – Sofia, and her unborn child.”
Leroy frowned. “What have I done?”
“All the wrong things,” said Rhianna, “though they would have been considered right by the Order of Xindulah – if Henry had belonged to it. You buried him in a brass box, under what must have been a sycamore tree, while the stars were in alignment, hoping all the while his death would seem illusory. It’s impressive in a way. None of these things alone would have let him reappear, but you covered all requirements.”
Leroy gulped. “Is there anything more?”
“There is. The Xindulan adepts used their powers to stay in touch with the dead; initiates could seek advice and solace from departed masters. But some of their dead were deeply resentful, consumed with the need to return and avenge what they viewed as injustices. Their spirits were weak at first, but they gained power over time, until they could physically manifest and do very real harm. They could only be placated with the blood of a newborn child.”
Leroy considered the implications. “So what are we supposed to do?”
“It’s more a case of undoing. We’d be wise to start tonight.”
A few hours later, when Leroy was home, he kissed Sofia, said he loved her, and drove to the park with his landscaping tools. Rhianna was already there with a black cat at her side. Leroy led her to Henry’s burial place and she ordered him to dig. The earth had shifted over time and new tree roots had appeared; the pit he dug was large enough to be a shallow human grave by the time the box appeared. It was tarnished but intact, and as Rhianna reached for it, the ghostly guinea pig appeared.
It started shrieking once again but Rhianna was not fazed. When she prised the box open the spectral being began to fade – but as it did the jumbled bones in the box began to move. First they became a skeleton. New flesh appeared and sprouted fur. Then Henry’s crimson eyes snapped open. He screeched and leapt for Leroy’s throat. Leroy swatted him away, but stumbled and fell into the pit. Something black flashed past his face and he heard another shriek. Then Rhianna took his hand and helped him get back to his feet. He saw her black cat nearby, crouched over a limp white form.
“It is finished,” said Rhianna. “Your transgressions are absolved.”
Leroy nodded. “Thanks to you. Rest assured I’ll be more honest with Sofia from now on.”
Leroy and Sofia now have a large and happy family. Rhianna prefers cats and books, but they all get on very well, due less to common interests than the enduring legacy of Henry the white guinea pig.
Not to mention an evil guinea pig!
Yikes, what a ghastly beast. But I loved your story. It was an odd one, for sure, but I liked all of the twists...
Again, awesome work well done.
I'm very happy with the image though. I used the same techniques as usual - hand-drawn linework, photographed sky, further colouring in Photoshop - but they came together very well. I've always loved Frazetta's work and I'd like to think it shows in this piece!
The story is rather odd. The it seemed Henry was just petty and didn't have a real reason to be angry. Other than the fact he's dead I suppose.