Beneath the Floor
by Steven Berry
part 1 of 2
It was an old hay barn with a pitched, slate-tiled roof on a small farm not too far from Trenton, North Warwickshire. There was plyboard on the windows and padlocks on the doors. Young Tom Clark wanted to see what was inside. With his face stuck against the window boards and his crooked vision gazing into the darkness, he saw an old Volkswagen Beetle under a blue tarpaulin and not much else. Then he heard something. It was a strange sound. Hooooo... Hoooooggggrrrggg... The wind?
“Tom, come on! Dinner’s done, come and get it.”
His uncle Len was back and had finished washing the grease and oil off his hands. The both of them had spent the afternoon swapping parts on the Harvester. His uncle was a slim, old-fashioned man who caught the sun easier than an Italian model. He was standing in the porch — naked from the waist up — wiping grease and sweat off his chest with a handful of kitchen roll. He had only been in the house five minutes and already his breath stank of beer. The young boy trotted a few steps then stopped. “Uncle Len, what’s in there? Can I look in there tomorrow?”
“Nah, I just keep my Volkswagen in there... and to store crap. Nothin in there... just dust and rust.” Tom made his way to the house, leaping from one crooked slab to another.
* * *
Tom slept in the back bedroom and was having trouble sleeping with the wind. He got up and looked out at the farm, at the barn and its faded panels of weathered wood. A clump of trees at the far side watched over it like a huge dark eye. The ploughed fields in the near distance looked like small sand dunes.
Mavis and Bruno stood askew, haggard and spewing straw. Despite their efforts, the birds had become familiar with their motives. The wind gusted again and the barn doors shuddered and creaked. Tom turned away and went to the toilet. On his travels he heard voices from the other room. He stopped halfway and looked up at a portrait on the wall of his dead cousin. She had been out in the fields when Len was ploughing and never stood a chance. Tom tiptoed to the half open door.
“You see that boy go anywhere near that barn you get him away.”
Tom’s brow puckered.
“Oh, Len, the thing’s locked up to the high heavens, he can’t get in there. Stop panicking, it’s fine.”
“He gets in there, then we’re in trouble,” Len said.
“If I see him go near it I’ll tell him to move away.” She sounded tired.
“You know what’ll happen if he gets in there.”
“Yea, I know.”
Tom crept away to the bathroom.
* * *
The next morning started terribly hot. The sky’s blue was crisp and everlasting, no clouds to mottle its beauty. Len, who was stripped down to a bare chest and a pair of oily Levis, was half way up a wooden ladder jostling about with the gutter brackets. Elaine had finished cleaning out the chickens and was preparing lunch.
Tom, holding the ladder, wondered if she was doing chicken salad and that’s why it had taken her so long this morning in the sheds. “Uncle Len, that road go to sewerage place?” he asked.
“Aye, yeah can do. I’ve had some trouble with animals — butchered a few rabbits on that. A goddamn danger, that’s what it is.”
“I was wondering that’s all.” He glanced up at the road against the fields and then to the barn.
“Tom, if I’m away from the house you tell your aunt that Ken Lewis is due anytime soon, she’ll know who he is.” The sun was close to unbearable, and had started to annoy Len.
“Okay, I will.”
“What time is it?” Len had finally unclipped the length of guttering.
“Quarter past one.”
“I think it’s time for somethin’ to eat.” He started working his way down. Tom looked up at the snapping noise. One of the rungs had broken and Len was on his way down. His legs thudded into the summer dirt. He cried out and gasped, grabbing both of his legs with veins bulging in his hands.
“Aunt Elaine!!!” Tom screamed, leaping into the porch and through the house to the kitchen. Standing in the kitchen doorway, he cried, “Uncle Len’s fell off the ladder.”
Elaine looked up, inhaled impatiently, and threw the dishcloth into the sink. They both ran outside. “Jesus, Len, I told ya a thousand times them ladders are dangerous.”
Len didn’t pay much attention to his other half of twenty-two years, never had done and never would. Len’s left ankle was horribly inverted to the side and his other leg seemed injured around the shin.
Elaine straightened up. “You’re an idiot using those ladders.” She lifted a hand to her face. “Len, Christ, we’ve got Ken coming over and no one’s gonna be here to see him, for Chrissake. I’ll have to see if Barb will come over.” Elaine fled to the house while Len lay trembling in pain.
Elaine came out of the house. “She’s coming down... I’m gonna ring an ambulance.”
Len’s eyes bulged. Both of his hands were clenched. “No... no way, get me in the house. I’ll sort myself out.”
Elaine bent down, and Tom watched her mumble something to him.
“I ain’t goin’ to a hospital when I can fix myself.”
“You will, Len.”
“You take me in the van, then, I ain’t havin’ ambulances down here.” He exhaled painfully and touched his ankle.
“You’re an idiot, you really are. I swear.” She clenched her fist at him, and went back to the house to get the keys to the van.
* * *
Barbara Clark arrived twenty minutes later, and by then Tom and Elaine had managed to hike a howling Len Green to the van, which would hopefully start now he had replaced the piston rings. A job that had taken him nearly five weeks to finish.
Len was flat out in the back with his legs propped up on bales of hay. Tom and Barbara waved them off into the rising grit, and when the van hit the bumpy country road they heard a soft rumble of agony.
Barbara went inside and finished off the lunch Elaine had been preparing.
Tom stayed outside, excited as a rat in a fresh mound of sewerage. He went down to the barn wiping sweat off his face, and now the warm, calm edginess had returned: the wind rustling, rocking Bruno and Mavis on their frames, birds muttering in the far distance of the fields. The place felt more like a deserted graveyard than a farm.
Tom stood between the house and the barn, circled in a vortex of leaves and grit. He could hear it again: HHhhooorrrggghhhh... like an old man groaning. The wind dropped and Tom could hear the chirp of insects in the fields and the dirty, guttural hum from the barn. Eager, he edged closer.
By the door, half hidden in the grass was a needle. He backed away, as his mother had taught him not to go near needles if he ever saw one in the street. Never pick one up.
“Errhuhuh, sick.” He stepped beside it and started bashing at the wood on the windows. After a few blows and an ache in the side of his fist, a piece of board came loose.
Inside it was musty and dark. The shadows seemed to make strange patterns across the spider-webbed walls and beams overhead. He couldn’t see much except for the car under the blue sheet. There were a few mangy tractor parts dispersed over the oil stained hay. On the far wall was a shelf stretching the whole width of the barn, and bottles of coloured liquids stood long and old on the slab of timber. There must have been twenty or so and not one was labelled. More needles hid in the hay.
Defeated, he went back to the house to play on his GameBoy, and by the time he reached the porch he saw a white van coming down the dirt track. Had Elaine forgotten something? No. It was a Vauxhall — Len’s was an LDV — and it came rolling into the farm too fast, dangerously fast.
“MOM!!!” Tom shouted, but knew she liked to have the radio on loud. “MMMOOOMMM!!!” he screamed, jumping back a few steps into the house. The van lost control, hit the corner of the porch, and spun crazily. The porch shook and tiles slid from the roof. The van turned as it spun and toppled, skidding along the lawn with the sun shimmering on its rusted body.
Barbara ran from the house after hearing the whack of the wheel’s impact with the corner of the building. “Holy Christ!” She got there just as the van was forced to a sudden heavy halt when it hit Len’s Volkswagen in the barn. Dust and grit lifted into a misty haze above the wreck. Panes of fractured wood lay on the grass like dead soldiers.
Tom looked up at his mother. Her cheeks were ruby red from sunburn. Her hand partially covered her mouth in the typical gesture of shock. Everything went still and hazy on the farm, baking in the heat.
“Everything’s all action this week,” she muttered, pacing to the barn.
Tom wasn’t far behind her, looking at something thick and mangled and covered in blood. The driver was appearing from the shattered front window. Blood was dripping from a gash on his head. He was groaning as he crawled out onto the hay. Barbara helped the guy out of the van.
While Tom was wandering around the barn he heard the injured driver say that his brakes had locked when he hit the dirt track. “I saw a dead rabbit or something fly out of your wheels.” The driver gazed up, semi-conscious, and blood gushed down his face, dribbling into the corners of his mouth.
Tom cringed and turned away.
Copyright © 2007 by Steven Berry