Down Below (part two)

I don’t know how long I was trapped in the basement with it.  It would menace me, but did not hurt me.  I felt it get close and then withdraw when I screamed.  There was no exit, but it refused to end my suffering.  Each time I thought my terror could not get any worse, it found some new way to frighten me.  It showed me scenes of death.  It oozed something to cover my hands, to let me know it was near.  And the sounds…  I cannot describe the noises it made.

I begged it to stop.  To let me go.  To kill me.  But nothing seemed to matter.  Yet I could sense its glee at my torment.  Finally, I hit upon something.  I promised to find another.  Someone else it could torment.  I felt the creature recede and the door at the top of the stairs clicked open.

It had accepted my offer and let me go.  Now I needed to find a substitute.  I cannot say why I didn’t just leave.  I guess I wasn’t thinking clearly.  Or maybe I didn’t think I could get away that easily.  Not after I had proposed the bargain.  So I went out to find someone else to sacrifice in my stead.

I drove to the park by the river.  It did not take long to find a homeless man who could be lured into coming home with me by the promise of food and a warm place to sleep.  I brought him back to the house and shoved him into the basement.  The screaming started immediately, but I didn’t stay to listen.

I came straight here to turn myself in.  I am horrified at what I’ve done, but I hope you can understand why I did it.

*     *     *

The detective just looked at me for several moments before speaking.  “That’s quite a story, Mr. Samuelson.  So you kidnapped a homeless man to sacrifice him to a demonic presence in your basement.”

“Yes.  I know it was wrong.  But I had to save myself.”

“And yet, we’ve searched your house and found no evidence of this man, nor of any demonic presence.”

“But why would I lie about this?  About doing something like this?”

“I don’t know.  People occasionally confess to crimes they didn’t commit.  Sometimes they do it to get attention.  Sometimes they just aren’t right in the head.  What I can tell you is that the next time you feel a demonic presence, come here before you go out to kidnap someone.”

“You’re not going to arrest me?  Put me in jail?”

“For what?  For wasting my time?  I wish I could.  Go home, Mr. Samuelson.”

I wanted to protest, to demand to be put behind bars.  At least that would keep me from going back to that house.  But the detective had already left.  And they had found nothing.  Maybe it had just been a dream.

With nothing else to do, I left the police station.  Outside, sitting on a bench on the sidewalk, was the homeless man.  He smiled when he saw me.  It was a smile that turned my blood to ice.

“You did well to bring me this body, but don’t go running off to the police again.  That would seem to violate the spirit of our agreement.  You should go back home.  I’ll find you when I need a new body.”

fin

Down Below (part one)

The sound that came from the basement was disconcerting in its essence, not merely because it interrupted the quiet in the house.  The cat must have knocked something over, I tried to convince myself.  I didn’t believe it for a moment.

I’ve always hated basements ever since I saw the movie Them!, a 1950s sci-fi movie about giant ants.  Also, I’ve hated ants.  But it was a basement that confronted me now, and I had to find the source of the noise.  So I turned on the light at the top of the stairs and walked down as though I expected to find nothing out of the ordinary.  I always found that helpful for getting through the times I had to walk into a basement.

Down the stairs and another light switch, I saw an empty plastic container on the floor.  It must have fallen off the shelf and made the noise I had heard.  I picked it up and returned it to its place.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a dark, indistinct figure just before the lights went out.

False bravado forgotten, I ran to the stairs and began to climb.  The sound of heat came at me from all sides as the feeling of ice assaulted my skin.  Nothing made any sense.  Just as I reached the top of the stairs, the door to the rest of the house – to safety – slammed shut.  I grabbed the door knob and began to pull with all of my might, but to no avail.

A voice from below called out, “Come back.”  I had never heard such a sound before – it sounded like glass ripping skin – and I began to cry.  As I sobbed, I sank down to the top step, my hands still gripping the door in futility.

“Come back,” it said again.  It was not a request, but a command.  Still the horror and panic made it impossible for me to move.  I sat, petrified, for a long time.  Each time it called to me, another sob escaped.

Finally, I grew numb.  The next time it called, my body obeyed.  My mind screamed in protest, but it had lost all its power over my movements.  I was back in the basement, in the dark.  Something was down here with me, and it wanted to kill me.  But it would torture me first.

to be continued…

*A note to the reader: Them! has nothing to do with basements.  But when you’re ten, anything can be in basements, including giant ants.

Denizens: Tyler

“You’re making a fool of yourself.”

Tyler waved his hand, dismissing John’s disapproval.  “You’re just jealous.”

“What?”

“You’re jealous that she’s into me and not you.”

John scoffed.  “Yeah.  That’s it.”

Tyler looked over at their waitress.  “How do you not see it?  The way she flirts with me?”

“Dude.  She’s trying to get better tips.  She flirts with everybody.”

“You think I can’t tell the difference?  I’m telling you, she likes me.”

“Okay, man.  If you say so.”

The waitress came back over to their table.  “Another round?”

Tyler smiled at her, determined to prove his friend wrong.  “Sure… uh…  I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name before.”

She smiled.  “Denise.”

“Hi, Denise.  I’m Tyler.  This is my friend, John.”

She turned.  “Hi, John.”

John gave her a quick wave.

“So.  Same as before?  Or did you want something different?”

“Same.  Thank you.”

She smiled again and walked back to the bar.

“See?  I told you.”

John looked incredulous.  “Told me what?  She took our order.”

“Wow.  You must be blind.”

“And you must be crazy.”

“You just aren’t a romantic like I am.”

“That’s what it is.”

Denise returned with their drinks.  “Here you are.  Can I get you anything else right now?”

“If you have a break, you could join us?”  He ignored John rolling his eyes.

Denise gave him that smile he was already in love with.  “I wish I could.  I just came on a little bit ago, and my boss is pretty strict about giving us our breaks.  Maybe some other time.”

He used his own smile to cover his disappointment.  “No problem.  Don’t want you to get in trouble with your boss.”

“Thanks for the offer, though.”

“Sure.  Anytime.”

After she left, John leaned forward.  “Can we go now?”

“Why?”

“Well, you struck out.  We can leave, right?”

“I didn’t strike out.  You heard her.  Her boss is a hard ass.”

“Yeah.”

“Seriously.  I don’t know why I hang out with you.”

“Because I’m the only one who puts up with your shit.”

“Thanks a lot.”

John grinned.  “I’m just kidding.  But can we go?  I do need to get up tomorrow.”

“Okay.  Let me settle up.”

“Sure.”

Tyler took out one of his business cards and wrote his cell number on the back.  As they headed to the door, he handed the card along with a fifty dollar bill to Denise.  “Call me sometime, okay?”

“Sure.  Thanks.  Have a good night.”

“You, too.”

Outside, John let out a little laugh.  “I hope she calls you.”

“She will.  You’ll see.”

John slapped him on the back.  “I really hope she does.”

Denizens: Rob

“You’re here early.”  Maurice greeted him as he walked into the bar.

Rob mustered a half-smile, and said, “Yeah.  Work was boring.”

The place was nearly empty this early in the afternoon.  He sat down and took a sip of the beer already waiting for him.  It was a lie, of course.  Work hadn’t been boring.  Indeed, he hadn’t had any work in almost a month.  Every morning he went out looking for a job.  Every afternoon he came here after coming up empty.  Today, he had given up earlier than usual.  There were only so many times he could hear “no” in one day.

“Hey, Rob,” Maurice interrupted his wallowing.  “Will you do me a favor?”

“Sure.  Anything for you.  What do you need?”  It was always a good idea to keep your bartender happy.

“If Jim comes in…”

“Oh no.”

“Come on.  I need someone he’s still on friendly terms with.”

“‘Reese, I’ve told you.  I don’t want to get involved in that disaster.”

“It’s driving Denise nuts.  I just want you to get him to go away for a little while.  Just until everyone calms down some.”

“Why don’t you just tell him to leave?  It’s your place.  You can kick him out.”

“If I ask him, he’ll think Denise put me up to it.  That’ll just lead to more hard feelings.  Anyway, it’s just for a little while, a couple of weeks maybe.”

Rob sighed.  Jim and Denise.  The bar’s favorite couple.  Until last week, when a night of drinking and stupidity ended it.  Now everyone was taking sides.  Rob just wanted a place to drink in peace.  To forget about his own shitty life, not to be dragged into someone else’s.

“Fine.  I’ll talk to him.  But I can’t promise he’ll listen.”

“Thanks, Rob.  I appreciate it.  Oh…  And don’t say anything about this to Denise, okay?”

“Yeah, sure.”

More customers had come in, and Maurice left to go wait on them.  Rob sat alone at the bar.  Maybe he should ask for a tab, just until he got something to bring money in.  But he didn’t want to have to admit he was unemployed.  He tried to release the stress from the day, while attempting to come up with other job opportunities he could pursue.  It was a self-defeating strategy.  The only thing he managed to accomplish was drinking a few beers.

Some of the staff and other regulars began to arrive.  Jim walked in, and Rob sighed.  Maybe trying to sort his friend out would take his mind off of his other problems.  He had nothing else to do, so he stood, intercepted Jim on his way to the bar, and steered him to a table.

Denizens: Amanda

Amanda sat at the bar, nursing her whiskey sour.  There was too much sour and not enough whiskey.  A perfect allegory for this place.  It just wasn’t the same anymore.

She watched as Jim walked through the door.  Rob went over to him, and they sat down at a table.  The urge to go sit down with them was strong, but she fought it.  Denise was across the room with another customer.  The awkwardness was heavy in the air.

One of the bartenders, Pete, walked over to her.  “You need another one, Amanda?”

“No,” she answered without really thinking about it.

“Okay.  Just holler if you need anything.”

“Wait.  I will take another.  But a little more Jack Daniels this time, huh?”

Pete smiled and nodded.  The drink was better this time.  As she took a few sips, the awkwardness in the room subsided a bit.  She made up her mind; things had to get back to normal around here.  Sitting by herself was not normal.  Mingling.  That was normal.

Not thinking about what she might say, she walked over to Jim and Rob.  Just like old times, she kept repeating to herself.  Just like old times.  She couldn’t help but notice the stare Jim was giving Denise, and she pushed down a twinge of jealousy.

Before she could lose her nerve, she walked right up behind Jim and put her hands on his shoulders, then said the first thing that came to mind.

“Is he still pining?”  She regretted the words as she said them, but tried to play it off as a joke.

Rob didn’t answer, but Jim shook her off.  “Cut it out.”  The irritation in his voice was palpable.  “I am not pining.  We were just talking about checking out some other bars.”

Leaving?  Was it really that bad?  She could almost understand Jim wanting to be elsewhere, even though she hated the idea, but would Rob really leave, too?  Why?  From his expression, she couldn’t tell what Rob was thinking.

“Okay.  You’re not pining.”  She looked at Jim and tried to act nonchalant.  “So where are we going?”

“We’re not going anywhere, Amanda.  But you can leave.”

The words went right through her heart.  She tried to remember that he was hurting.  And that it was her fault.  But she hadn’t been prepared for his anger.  She stood up before she started crying.  “Fine.  I get it.”

Back at the bar, a fresh drink was waiting for her.  Pete had been organizing some glassware that was already perfectly organized.  He stopped as she returned.

“So.  How you doing?”

“Great.  Just great.”  She used a bar napkin to wipe her eyes.

“I’m guessing things are a bit awkward still?”

“Yep.  But whatever.  Can’t let one little thing ruin your day, you know?”

“True.  Do you want some friendly advice?”

“Not really, no.”

“Fair enough.”

Amanda downed her drink in one long gulp and pushed the glass back toward Pete.

She’d like to believe it was the alcohol.  Or maybe that together with the way Jim had treated her.  Whatever the reason, Amanda leaned toward Denise, who had come up with an order, and said, “Your boyfriend is an ass.”

Denise turned a withering scowl on her.  “He’s not my boyfriend.  You’re so fascinated with him, you can have him.  Oh, wait…”

“Ladies!”  Maurice, the owner, had walked over.  “Denise, please come with me.  Amanda, I told you not to make things worse.”  He led Denise to the other end of the bar, leaving Pete and Amanda alone.

“Well, that was great.  You think he’s going to kick me out?”

Pete looked over at his boss.  “Well, he hasn’t yet.  Still, you should probably keep it low key for awhile.”

Amanda nodded.  Rob walked up to the bar to order a drink, and she looked over at the table.  Jim was nowhere to be seen.  Great.  She wished that she’d stayed home tonight.