While Researching a Horror Story...
by Neil Crabtree
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
He shivered and moved back. What the hell was this? One kick would open the door, one swift firm kick right on the panel next to the doorknob. The door would fly open and reveal... what? Whatever had made the noise. Whatever had locked the door.
No doubt the old lock was stuck, had somehow locked itself. But remembering the shock the dressmaker’s dummy had given him in the daytime, he did not want to go bursting in there without some kind of light. Besides, the matches he had were in his bag downstairs. He leaned closer, listening for the noise, that metallic sound. And as he did so, he had the eerie sensation of someone, something, on the other side of the door, doing the same, listening for him.
He began to perspire, sweat tickling him as it ran down his side. He looked up and down the darkened hall. Beyond the moonlit window the shadows were total. It was as if the walls had dissolved and created an opening into the void. He had no desire to be trapped there. He needed a light. The yawning darkness and the hostile presence beyond the door propelled him now to feel his way back along the wall and search for the stairway.
At last his hand, still holding the drink glass, ran out of wall and touched only empty air. He stumbled and cold liquid slopped out of the glass onto his hand. The stairs ran down through the darkness invisibly, then reappeared in faint moonlight coming through the downstairs windows. He felt for the first step cautiously, both arms out, grabbing the banister with one hand, feeling for the wall with the other.
He made his way down, one step at a time, breathing heavily, and was halfway down the creaking stairs when he turned his head back at a noise behind him. A noise very much like a key turning in a lock.
His foot slipped and he dropped the glass and fell, grabbing, catching himself just in time. His pulse pounded in his ears. The darkness at the top of the stairs was formless, terrifying. He turned back down. His hand touched the wall, and he felt wetness and remembered that awful smear. Was that blood on his hand?
Now desperate, he hurried down the rest of the steps and into the front room, where he knocked over a lamp as he groped for the sofa and his bag. The sound of breaking glass seemed outrageous in the obscurity of the shadows, and he yelped. Feeling his way along the sofa, he at last found his bag. Fumbling in its pockets, he found the flashlight.
He breathed a sigh of relief as he clicked it on. What a difference it made. The light was very bright amid so much darkness, casting out much more illumination than he expected. Shining it around the room and finding nothing out of the ordinary, he laughed as a sense of security returned.
He had wanted a scare and had gotten quite a good one. But now he was all right, the electric torch was enough to drive back the shadows. Once again armed with the ability to see, he felt much better. He picked up the Scotch bottle and drank from it, two good swallows, then another. The burn down his gullet was a comfort. He found his cell phone but the little screen said No Signal.
The realtor had mentioned a problem with the electricity, with the wires or something. She had told him about a fuse box in the basement. A fuse had blown probably. All he had to do was replace it and the lights would come back on. The handyman had left extra fuses on or near the fuse box, she’d told him, in case something like this should happen.
Pensa wished the handyman were there to fix the fuses for him, and to have a drink and share a laugh about what had happened upstairs. Except, the idea was not all that funny. He had heard something moving in that room. Something had locked the door. And with a chill he remembered the noise he had heard right before he stumbled on the stairs. It was the sound of a key unlocking a door.
He shone the light toward the stairs. The shadows of the room shifted shape around him, bending this way and that as the angle of the light changed. The stain, the ugly brown smear, reflected flatly in the light. It was not wet after all. Despite the shifting shadows, the light seemed to be proof against whatever it was he had sensed at the top of the stairs. He would investigate later and find out what was going on.
He looked up the stairs and moved the light up them and saw the glass he had dropped and broken. That was the explanation, he decided. His hand had been wet when he touched the wall, not the other way around. There was a puddle where the ice had melted. Simple enough. The shock of all the lights going out at once had made noises ordinary to an old house seem sinister.
With a flashlight in his hand and three good shots of whiskey in his belly, it all seemed so plain, so logical. But he decided to check the fuses before he went up the stairs again.
Pensa made his way through the dark house, the light making a path. He felt vaguely like a burglar as he went through the dining room, past the wooden table and chairs and a big china cabinet. He followed a worn path in the carpet, a trail of use made by those no longer living. There was a swing door to the kitchen and he heard the scurrying of rodents gone before he could shine the light on them.
What was he doing here? he wondered. His original intentions seemed so strange and misguided to him. He moved over the cracked linoleum and smelled the staleness of a once-clean kitchen abandoned for years and years.
The door to the basement was stuck. He had to bang on it once, twice with his shoulder before it flew open. The flashlight fell from his hand, disorienting him. He found himself on the landing at the top of steps leading down into gloom. Once again there was the dizzying impression of standing in empty space. He lost his balance. The rail he grabbed broke off in his hand, and he fell heavily, ass-over-elbows, down the cement steps into the darkness.
As he regained consciousness, he was overwhelmed by pain all over his head and arms and sides. Those places that were not in pain were strangely numb. He suspected that when the numbness wore off he would be in pain there too. In his mouth was the taste of blood. His chest hurt when he breathed. His left leg was numb and uncomfortable. When he reached down, his hand felt something brittle and jagged sticking through the fabric of his trousers.
Nausea spun him around as he realized that what he had touched was his own leg bone sticking through his flesh. His hand was covered in blood and he started to pass out. The idea of his death went from a remote possibility to a strong probability. He had the horrible awareness that this was how it happened, how people got killed. They fell down stairs. They bled to death in remote places. They were found lifeless and stinking days later.
What would be written? How would the press handle his passing? Surely he would make the cover of several national magazines. It should have been funny but tears came to his eyes as he thought he was going to pass out and never wake up. He did not want to die. He did not want to pass out. Just to rest. Just. Rest.
He came to, suddenly awake. He could tell he had been asleep for quite a while but something had roused him, something he could not quite remember in his haze.
He was aware that he was lying on the basement floor of an old country house. He was injured. His leg was badly broken, he had lost blood, and his insides hurt as bad as his outsides. He knew all this at once, but that was not what had woken him.
He looked around him. The flashlight had rolled against the wall but amazingly it was still on and the reflected light was enough for him to see by. His head throbbed as he moved to peer around. As he shifted and tried to roll over, his leg sent a shockwave of pain that nearly knocked him out again. Sweating, breathing heavily, he raised himself on an elbow and tried to assess his situation. There had to be something he could do.
Beyond the sounds of his own breathing, he thought he heard something upstairs in the house. Was that a footfall? There was another sound, the same, like a thump or a thud, followed by another, slightly louder, and then another. Thank God! Someone was up there.
“Help!” he yelled, or tried to. His voice sounded terrible to his ears. “Help me! I’m down here! Down in the basement!”
He listened again. There was no answer to his calls, no response. Yet he was sure he detected movement above him. Maybe response was cut off by the floor, the walls. But then so would his voice be cut off. No!
“Here! Downstairs! Help me! I’m downstairs in the basement! I’m hurt! Help me! Down here!”
He felt faint from screaming and slumped back down. Oh he was so tired. If only they would hurry and find him and get him out of there.
He could hear someone in the kitchen now, someone moving, not footsteps exactly, something else. Oddly, he thought of someone on roller skates on the floor above him. He guessed he must still be in shock. But that was what it sounded like, little metal wheels moving across the linoleum.
He shivered violently as he remembered what had awakened him. As he raised himself again and looked up the steps, the door from the kitchen banged open. An old woman in a dusty dress and veil-covered hat came out onto the landing, but the figure did not step down from the kitchen doorway. It rolled, with the sound of little metal wheels, and bounced as it landed.
Then the figure pivoted rather than turned, to face him down the stairs. Only there was no face, just an awful veiled facelessness he recognized in mortal terror. As an arm raised and he saw the glint off the blade of the butcher knife, he began to scream and scream and scream.
Copyright © 2009 by Neil Crabtree