The Big Rusty Couch
Summary: Sonata Song has recently transitioned to female, and her distant uncle requests her help to confront a supernatural menace.
The summer after I completed my transition, I dealt with an almost as challenging ordeal on Uncle Terrance's farm. In my time as a student at the University of British Columbia, I'd acquired a reputation among certain faculty as a reliable freelancer for certain types of work. My background in martial arts and blasting sporting clays assisted with some. The inexplicable nature of those fateful jobs left much to be desired, much like the cringe-worthy responses from the early stages of my own journey. Nevertheless, no transition was without its pains, physical and metaphorical.
Uncle Terence bought the property cheap, hoping to use it as a project during his retirement. He and Aunt Mei Lin were critical of my transition, and I was still somewhat bitter about it. However, they were family, and they'd been there after my parents kicked me out. It was only fair that I return the favor, instead of holding onto petty spite. Hatred could warp a mind, just as injury could warp a body.
Uncle Terence met me in a motel an hour outside Richmond. His brown eyes were bloodshot, his hair disheveled, and his clothes unwashed. He explained the problems started every night, and the police refused to respond after the first night. It, as he elaborated, was one of those problems. One like those I'd dealt with throughout my education.
I looked at my short black dress in the motel room mirror. Three years ago, I would have been a Chinese-Canadian man. That was another lifetime, back before I met Dexter Danforth. I'd already made the decision to transition when I took this side job. Of all the side-hustles I'd worked, this was undoubtedly the most rewarding. Looking Uncle Terry's distraught face, I agreed to help without thinking. Perhaps that was the first mistake I made, but the smile he gained was worth it. He and Mei Lin never accusingly whispered in Cantonese around me again.
My job started as the others all did, with a trip to the local library. I dug up all I could about the property, its prior owners, any incident reports, and related documents. Even if all information was accessible, finding the most relevant information in the noise was a challenge for most people. Easy for me, though.
The property had none of the typical signs. No bloody battles, no violent crimes, no reports of strange phenomena. The only macabre detail I could find was the prior owner hung himself from a curtain in the wake of his wife leaving him and taking their kids. I could find no other details as to causes, other than his family struggling to divide all his possessions. Instead, they'd left most to rot. That alone was highly unusual. That only piqued my curiosity, like a cat sticking its paw into an electrical socket.
Uncle Terry warned me against my next suggestion. Of course I needed to spend the night at the place. How else could I conduct on-site research? He gave me the keys to his gun cabinet, which he'd left there. He told me to be careful. The thing in the junkheap was not a bear, not a wolf, and not a mountain lion. He'd dealt with them all before, but this was something else. Well, so was I.
I drove out to the property, which had a scenic view of the Canadian Rockies. It must've cost a fortune, had it not been so hastily sold after Lewis' suicide. The house was a quaint farmhouse, a two-story one of the style common in the Pacific Northwest and New Zealand. The tire tracks from my relatives' rapid flight were still visible, with water pooling inside them. I wondered exactly why this bucolic location was plagued by something wrong, and then I looked behind the house.
Behind the house was a junkyard, putting it mildly. While permanently immobile, cars on cinderblocks seemingly disgorged their entrails behind them like mechanical sea cucumbers. What had once been a washer and drier sat exposed and forlorn, their rusty viscera intermingled with creeping grasses. A refrigerator of a style older than I was laid overturned on its side, with only mold to coat its innards. Beyond the car graveyard and discarded appliances was a mansion's worth of abandoned furniture. As I moved in, I was glad I had my tetanus shots.
I noticed a peculiar pattern to how they were laid out, unlike the random arrangement of the other dead machines. Folding chairs were arranged in a circle, like the outermost ring of chanting disciples. A parade of tables was the next one in, milling about like grazing livestock. They were hemmed in by a barricade of rusted mattress springs, all organized like a fortress wall. Strangely, they obstructed the view of what laid within.
I cautiously approached, wishing I'd brought some form of weapon or ward with me. Despite it being noon on a warm summer's day, I felt a chill like a Canadian spring snow work its way over me. I smelled something sulfurous, like hot garbage boiling on the blacktop. My fingers felt the texture of rusted steel, though they were pressed soundly against my hips. I heard the creaking of rusted chains, like the swing set outside my old apartment. I almost tasted something metallic, like the time I put a nail in my mouth while fixing my old deck. All of my senses, and more, were overcome by that aura of wrongness.
I pressed on, eager not to disappoint my uncle once more. I'd selected the name Sonata before I transitioned, partially because I wasn't very familiar with Mandarin and Cantonese, partially because I liked the wordplay with my last name, Song. My uncle said that it was the most advanced, inventive dynasty in Chinese history, just like our family had a knack for problem-solving. I think he was biased, just as I was. I stopped when I saw what awaited me.
It was a sofa. Not just any sofa, but a long couch like the one I'd watched cartoons on as a kid. The cushions and fabric were a faded blue, but remarkably well-preserved for something rotting outside for years. I remembered the Big Fluffy Sofa, an old kid's show I watched with a similar couch. In a distracted moment, I dug into my pocket to pull out my phone. I searched up that show, and I found myself skimming over a history of its entire run. The show ceased its run only recently when the main hostess, who portrayed a clown, disappeared. The phone's connection dropped, which was not unexpected this far out.
A metallic clangor returned me to a frantic, fearful present. I looked up to see the couch had turned slightly. It was as though some unseen, massive force jerked it along the ground beneath it. I found myself withdrawing with an alacrity I thought myself incapable of. Around me, the furniture came to life with a metallic resonance. It was as though everything in the scrapyard vibrated like a giant xylophone. The tone moved from one end of the field to the other with a celerity exceeding my own. As I cleared the outskirts, I finally noticed it ceased.
I understood why my Uncle and Aunt fled as fast as they could. This place was even creepier than the abandoned tunnels underneath Chinatown. These were more bizarre than my uncle's strange stories of Inspector Gao. I was stranger than the time Dr. David Risona himself visited and showed me his latest deranged experiments. I knew, though, I needed more data on it. If knowledge of something could create problems, ignorance couldn't solve them. Thus, I resolved to spend the night. I would never forgive myself for it.
I barricaded the farmhouse, as best I could. I overturned excess furniture near the front, back, and basement doors. I locked the windows, deciding against buttressing them with plywood, in case my uncle got too curious as too the walls. Besides, I might need to make a rapid exit, especially against an unknown threat. I prepared my defenses accordingly, and I holed up near the gun cabinet. I knew I hadn't seen the last of it.
My intuition had always been strong, especially for things others found unnatural. It only got more insightful after my transition, as though I finally had the woman's intuition denied by my biological birth. I'd gone under the knife, and I'd emerged stronger for it. I only hoped my instincts would guide me through to morning, especially given the ominous clanking I heard outside. I flung open my uncle's cabinet to see what he'd stocked his arsenal with.
The first object there was not a firearm, but a Cold Steel kukri machete. Better than nothing, I supposed. Second, I saw an older, but polished revolver: a Webley Mark I, one of the most sought-after pieces of Canadian military history. I recognized it because I helped a military historian track down one stolen from a museum. I saw hand-loaded black powder shells, which I prepared for use. I hoped I would not have to damage a piece of military history worth more than the beaten old car I drove here on. That was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
The long-arms were far more promising. There was an SMLE Mark III, the classic British bolt-action rifle. There was a Cooey 84 12-gage shotgun, probably older than Uncle Terry and I combined. Those things could probably put an AK47 to shame for reliability. There was a Norinco QBZ Type 97 NSR, the civilian semi-auto version of the Chinese service rifle. Canada, curiously, was one of the few places in the world it could be purchased. I saw a range of shotgun loads, from slugs to buckshot to birdshot to flares, but I decided to wait.
Despite my best attempts at vigilance, I fell asleep after two hours. There was nothing from the scrapyard, save an occasional crashing of metal. I had a peculiar dream, of going back under the knife, and of something inserted into my skin. Unlike the earlier surgery, this was agonizing, malevolent, and angry. Something vicious. Something vindictive. Something stirring. Something coming.
It crashed into the downstairs door with the subtlety of a siege engine. An ophidian coiled body of flailing scraps and leaking brake-lines exploded through the window. I descended with the kukri in one hand and revolver in the other. In the dim lights of a forsaken family room, I swung like a madwoman. I shot at anything resembling a head, filling the room with acrid black powder smoke each shot. The smoke swirled into distorted, feminine shapes, pointing accusingly at me. I wondered if it was my overactive imagination, or something else preying upon it.
The six chambers of the revolver were emptied with a frightening hasted, but the thing was gone. I cautiously approached with the kukri raised above my head for a finishing blow, but the threat was not gone. The serpentine, animated junkheap was sprawled out across the backyard, but I was attacked from above. The drapes shot down like a praying mantis' claws, wrapping around my neck. I almost dropped my weapons as the curtains pulled me upwards. Recalling how Philip Lewis met his end, I hacked at the curtains with my kukri.
The draperies fell like cut lace to the floor around me, no longer animated. I twirled the blade around in a premature victory dance, but my nemesis was not done. I saw things approaching from the yard, distorted figures shambling like zombies. They were not mere undead humans, but instead hobbling scrapheaps. Like an invasion of poorly-built robots, they advanced onwards like an unstoppable tide. I retreated to the upper floor with the rifles and as much ammunition as I could carry. Sometimes, my Sonata was lamentably one of thunder and lead.
The SMLE worked its magic, felling the scrap-shamblers like harvested wheat. When struck by a rifle bullet, they collapsed where they stood. Each was made of a mishmash of components, with little to no consistency between them. One that walked with the rear legs of a folding chair had a partially dissembled automobile engine for a torso and washing machine dials for a "head." Another looked like a refrigerator door that half-sauntered and half-rolled to advance. Despite looking like a medieval pavise, it went down as quickly as the others did.
After emptying the SMLE, I shifted to the Type 97. It ate through magazines like I ate through chocolate. It was not as powerful as that bolt-action beast, but it was faster to fire. The scrapyard abominations barely made it to the front door when I finally went dry. Only two were left, but I still had a final weapon to go. I descended the stairs with my shotgun, loading a slug into the breach.
The Cooey was a cannon up close. A shotgun slug blasted the shamble that filled the doorframe, right through the engine grill that passed for its head. The second, and last, shambler continued onwards with reckless disregard for its own safety, only to halt behind the barricade. It raised a pair of heavy piston hands to smash through, but I reacted first. The breach of the shotgun slammed shut, and I brought the weapon up to bear. The muzzle roared like a nautical broadside, and only I was left standing.
Not resisting the chance, I twirled the weapon around and blew the gunsmoke away. "Groovy."
Dawn crept up in the aftermath of the siege, but I felt it was not over. The area between the house and couch was littered with mechanical debris, like an active battlefield. The sun peeked up from behind the horizon, but the battle was not yet done. With a fist full of shells, I ran outside. My intuition said it was time to go on offense, and I was not one to disobey my feminine instinct. Just as nature robbed me a body befitting my nature, I would fight to seize the day.
What was once a ring of mattress springs was a mechanical abattoir. The defensive ring they'd provided was gone, save for the abominable couch in its center. I did not want to get closer than I had to. I slammed a flare into the shotgun, launching them into odd sofa. As I'd often found out: When in doubt, burn it out. I saw flames spread across the sofa, and I prematurely celebrated. It was only the sudden metallic snap that betrayed the projectile heading for me.
I dropped to the ground without realizing it. A storm of rusted, jagged metal swept through the air above me. The shrapnel storm would've flayed me alive if I'd hesitated just a moment longer. I wondered if there was something more to my instincts, some inexplicable connection to the other side. As it rose out of the burning, rusty sofa, I realized how trifling those answers were.
The mastermind behind the night's tribulations rose from her hiding place. It was undoubtedly a her, despite the badly decomposed, charred flesh that smelt of sickly meat. Her skin was crisscrossed by scars, with coiled springs rising from the intersecting lacerations. I imagined touching her would be like rubbing my hand across a belt-sander. What was left of her face had a partially exposed skull with a spring protruding from an empty eye socket. Her clothing, or what little remained of it, had faded, but still motley, carnival-like colors. Both eyes glowed with white hot embers, settling on me. Despite this, I was momentarily fascinated. There was something familiar about her.
I filled her head with buckshot, to which she did not react. Her eyes were fixated through me, as if trying to burn me to ash with her terrifying, malevolent gaze. Like a flayed, scorned medusa, I believed she could reduce me to ash with less than a thought. Instead, I saw her cease her pursuit. She slowly turned to face the rising sun, and the flames that burnt from the couch beneath her lapped at her bony feet. She seemed to sink into the sofa, dispelled by dawn.
Had the sun not arrived when it did, I felt I'd have died. This was as close as I'd come in a long time, but it was part of why this side-hustle was so dangerous. I'd be lying if I said part of me didn't enjoy it, though. I fixed situations, ones that most people would never conceive of. As the sun rose, I started to rip what was left of that couch apart with a cutting torch and hacksaw. Inside was something almost as nauseating as the specter I saw.
Inside the couch was the decomposing, flayed body of a dead woman in a clown suit. The springs of the frame cut into her flesh, which was irritated and swollen. She was alive when she was stuffed, mortally wounded, into the sofa. As memories came racing back, I remembered where I'd seen this woman before, a lifetime ago on a children's show: the Big Fluffy Sofa. The show ran since I was a kid, ending only a couple years ago. The final fate of the hostess bound her furious spirit to the sofa. Perhaps Philip Lewis was involved with her final fate, or perhaps he'd acquired the sofa second-hand somewhere, without knowing about the body and vengeful spirit bound to it. Perhaps instead of killing himself after his wife left, he sent off his family for safety while he unsuccessfully battled the spirit. There was a lot of potential possibilities, all of which ended with Lewis dead and Uncle Terry stuck with this paranormal problem.
One thing was sure: The spirit would no longer plague the living. I went over the site with a Taoist exorcist's cherry wood sword, just to be sure. I knew I'd have to help Uncle Terry and Aunt Mei Lin come up with a story for the police, but I felt they wouldn't ask too many questions. When I was involved, they knew things would be weird. As I called to report them, Uncle Terry responded in a way could not help but make me smile.
"Good work, niece."