Beneath the Floor
by Steven Berry
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
There was a dank, mildewed stench in the hay at the back of the barn so Tom shifted further towards the front, and as he moved, his foot toed something in the hay on the ground. It was a padlock, a padlock attached to a latch. He studied it for a few more seconds, clearing the area and found some type of door built into the ground.
“Tom, go and ring 999.” He nodded, but couldn’t pull his eyes off the latch and the idea that perhaps something was underneath it.
“Tom, go on, hurry up.” Barbara cried. The injured driver was flat out on the hay and breathing in shallow gasps.
“Yea, Mom, I’m going.” He ran to the house and did what she had told him to do; the ambulance showed up in fifteen minutes.
Never in twenty years had life been so hectic on the farm, and now in one long afternoon you had a broken set of legs and a battered North Warwickshire grocer wanting to buy vegetables.
* * *
When Barbara was clearly out of view, busy walking alongside the paramedics, Tom ventured back to the barn, not knowing Elaine was emerging on the dirt track. Barbara had phoned her to let her know what had happened and Elaine had come rushing back.
The trapdoor didn’t give Tom much hassle. The wood was rotten and with a few tugs the surrounds of the lock gave way.
He straightened up and backed away. The grunting was coming from below. He wiped sweat off his face, licked his lips, and approached the trapdoor again. He lifted it a few inches off the ground and peered into the darkness. The rays of sunlight glistened on the cobble steps and showed a pit of scattered hay, bottles, and needles.
Tom slammed the door shut and bolted away from it and in doing so alerted whatever was down there. It started grunting, groaning, and thrashing about like a gorilla locked in a straitjacket. Tom covered the trapdoor with hay and backed away from it slowly. Don’t tell Aunt Elaine, don’t even tell Mom, he thought.
Tom left the barn and saw Elaine was back and was hurrying from the van. Keep calm, pretend like nothing happened, he thought, and licked the inside of his mouth, as it was horribly dry.
“Tom, what you been doing in there?” Her cheeks were red and her eyes flat and shiny.
“Nothing, I was just looking at the cars.” She looked over his shoulder, around the area of the trapdoor. It seemed covered and untouched.
“Aunt Elaine, do you have any pop?”
“In the house, go and make yourself a glass, some ice in the freezer too.” Tom went and did so.
Elaine gave the barn floor another look and then joined Barbara at the rear of the ambulance.
* * *
Elaine went back to the hospital, reluctantly, about quarter past six in the evening, after having dinner first. Barbara was watching Eastenders on television when Tom went outside. The heat had cooled down and the wind was almost non-existent.
Tom went back to the barn, to the trapdoor. He brushed the hay away with both hands, consciously looking at the house and the dirt track. He lifted the trapdoor all the way over. Tom stood back and peered down into the hole. It was dark, and something was moving down there. HHHhoorrrggghhh...
“What are you doing?” Tom almost jumped out of his skin.
“Mom... you scared me. Look?”
She gazed up and saw the open trapdoor. “What’s that?” Barbara asked, and Tom led her to it.
“Mom, what are them?” He bobbed his head to the shelf on the back wall. She investigated.
“Dunno, perhaps something to do with Len’s doctoring years, medicines or something.”
“Medicines?” Looking up at her.
“He used to be a doctor before...” There were a few newspapers on the shelf underneath the bottles. She picked them up and read. “Doctor cleared of charges.” She looked puzzled. She browsed at the other paper. “Midlands’ doctor cleared of charges of unlawful injections on patients.” She held the paper and was pulled away by the groaning. It came from the pit below. She abandoned the newspapers and bottles on the shelf. She stood on the edge of the trapdoor. “What’s this, Tom?” She started to go down. Tom followed.
Something shifted into the corner of the pit, and with its sudden movement something rattled. There were more needles in the hay.
“Hello.” Barbara’s voice was faint. A grunt. The thing moved back, its bare feet pushing through the hay. The guttural, deep churning noise was constant now. Hhhhoorrrrrgghhh... hhhoooorrrrrrrghhh. It was the thing breathing.
“Hello.” The clang chimed again and they scrambled back. Tom stumbled on his own dumb feet and fell against the bottom step.
“Mmmmeeerrrr, maaa leg,” he cried. More noises from the corner. Grunts. Snorts.
Then, in the vague sunlight, they saw a restrained beast. It was chained to the wall. The thing had dirty, wiry long hair. Its face was pale and mottled with ocean-coloured veins. Its arms riddled with needle marks like chicken pox scars.
“What the hell is that?” Barbara cried, holding Tom in her arms. Barbara looked at the thing and something clicked in her head. There were hundreds of needle pricks on its legs. A hand staggered to her mouth. Empty medicine bottles on the floor, restraint straps, and as all this worked out in her mind the horror continued to deepen into madness. She remembered stuff. Memories. Memories of Len and Elaine being so funny about anyone coming over to the house just after Michelle had died. The way they didn’t like you going upstairs alone. Why was the spare bedroom padlocked for so long? Barbara felt sick.
“Michelle,” she said, and the thing looked up.
“Aahhee Barrhh...” Was she intending to say Aunty Barb? Her tongue was missing, and her words came out distorted and thick, as if her throat and nose was blocked up.
“OH... oh my god, what’s he done to you?” she had figured it out. “Oh... Christ, you didn’t die in that accident did you? He’s done this?”
Then the deformed girl leaped back and waved her hands frantically. Bits of brick and mortar crumbled from the wall where the chain was connected.
Tom saw this and when he looked back at his mother a dark shadow was consuming the top of the steps like the moon covering the sun in a total eclipse.
“You should have kept out of here.” Barbara looked up at the opening.
“What the hell’s going on, Elaine? What the hell’s he done to her?”
“He was trying to help, but it just went wrong — it got out of hand, he lost control. You shouldn’t have come in here... I have no choice, Barb.” With rising terror, Barbara knew what was happening.
“NNNNOOOOOO!!!” she screamed, and an irresistible force pushed her to the ground. The chain chased after the deformed girl leaping up the stairs like a huge silver tail. It caught Tom around the leg and he screamed.
Michelle was loose, and when Elaine saw her daughter fleeting up the steps she stumbled back in a terrible, paralyzing shock. Elaine fell back onto the hay and watched the girl — now a monster — confront her, standing over her as Len had done so many times and stuck them needles full of awful crap into her arms and legs.
The monster’s breathing had grown ragged and contorted. It was that sound that Tom had heard, the sound that had nibbled away at his interest for those couple of days. In the clear sun she looked even more monstrous. Her spine was terribly bent, and bones poked out from under her rotted sweater. Michelle picked up the chain and glared at her mother.
Elaine’s mouth dropped open. Michelle whipped Elaine across the face with the rusted chain. Blood spat out from Elaine’s lips and covered her chin.
Elaine collapsed over on to her side, her mind spinning, pain searing through her face. The heavy breathing was distant and hazy through Elaine’s chaotic mind. She didn’t know that Michelle was carrying her down the cobble steps and was setting her down on the straw. Barbara and Tom watched from the corner of the pit. Michelle turned over one shoulder. Dots of blood were on her face.
“OOOOO, UUOGggg,” she shouted, waving her hands as if to say leave. Barbara grabbed Tom and hurried to the top.
* * *
Barbara ran to the house for her car keys. Tom was already in the passenger seat and was rubbing his aching leg. A dark crimson stain had appeared under the skin.
“C’mon, c’mon, Mom.” He looked out the back window. Michelle was standing in the ruined barn doorway. Her chest was bulging, in and out, in and out. Barbara appeared from the porch and gasped, hands flailing to her mouth.
“Mom, Mom!!!” Tom cried from the open window. Michelle peered over with slanted vision and then staggered off towards the woods besides the barn. Walking as if she’d been shot in the kneecap. She disappeared into the trees. Barbara ran to the car and got it started. They left the farm.
“Where do you think she’s gone?” Tom asked, still trembling and with his heart pounding in his chest.
“Nowhere...” Barbara glanced into the rear view mirror at the farm. “She’s still there.”
Tom hooked one arm over the seat and looked back. He couldn’t see her.
“Len’s got one hell of a welcome home treat coming to him,” she said.
Copyright © 2007 by Steven Berry