Forbidden Basement

You are renting a room in someone’s house as you transition to living in a new city. The owner tells you that basement is absolutely, 100% off limits. You don’t bat an eye at this request, until you start hearing noises from the basement at night. After several week of this, you sneak downstairs to see what’s going on. Finish the scene.

Post your response (500 words or fewer) in the comments below.

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292 thoughts on “Forbidden Basement

  1. WriterBella

    Clang Clang BANG!
    I thrown my pillow onto the floor. This noise was driving me insane and it started the second night I came here. I got up changed into some resonable clothes and put on my black hoodie because the heater here is broken and its like Alaska cold. I walk to my closet and open it up to grab my carefully handcrafted bow and my quiver full off designed arrows with blue and purple feathers on the ends. I put the quiver on my back and load one arrow into my bow and open the door that leads to the basement where the noise is coming form.
    “The basement is off limits. Ill repeat off limits.”
    I hear the landlord scold in my head. But do you know how many hours ive lost due to this noise. Yeah about a months worth of sleep. Im surprised im not completely insane at this point. I slowly walk step by step into the basement each wooden stair creaking in protest at my weight. I keep my bow ready and dart my eyes around as the room goes down deeper and gets darker, and darker. Soon I finally reach the bottom. I sign and start to relax my shoulders when suddenly

    BANG!

    I dart my head to the side and put my bow up and pull back the string ready to shoot. The noise came from inside a metel door with a green mark that was dimly glowing red. Aliens is the first thing that pops into my mind. Which is stupid but you got to admit whenever you see some glowing weird thing with a green mark on it you think aliens. I slowly make my way to the door and grab the handle and jerk it open without giving myself a moment to turn back. I aim my bow once more on full alert. A shape moves in the dim red light. I feel a sudden pain in my arm then find myself on the ground as everything turns dark.

    I flash open my eyes on full alert. I find myself in the dim red lit room inside a cell. I narrow my eyes and grumble.
    “Great.”
    I reach for my arrow but my quiver is gone. I jerk my head side to side and find it just outside the cage by my bow. If I could reach far enough I could grab it and slip it through the bars. I relize my arm has a bleeding cut, but I ignore it and reach further until I grabed the quiver and bow and quickly slip it through. A movement catches my eye as I panic and load my bow. The thing comes closer hissing like a wild animal. I quickly without thinking I shot the arrow staright into the things chest. It let out a cry of pain that sounded like two trains crashing and fell to the floor. I took deep breaths as I saw sevral human like figure dressed in black suits rush inside and quickly pick up the thing and dart away. One man lets me out of the cell.
    “Where are they taking it?”
    I ask the man stays emotionless.
    “None of your concern.”
    “Can I at least have my arrow back?”
    I splat back. The man shakes his head and leaves. I stand there trying the procces what just happened. What did just happen? Was this a dream? Was it real? And should I tell anybody what happened?

  2. Amanda

    There it is again the noise. Its twelve in the morning and all I honestly want to do is sleep. Everynight I hear the same noise for 3 hours and then it all ceases in a horrifying second. Tonight I won’t take it , curiosity has gotten the best of me. I’m going down there no matter what. Stepping into a pair of converse and grabbing some jeans to wear under my baggy “ Kiss “ t-shirt I open the door. The hallway is empty and the lights in my roomates room is closed.

    Usually I wouldn’t be one to invade people’s personal space but tonight what the heck. I slowly open the brown wooden door and shake at every squeak it makes. I take a step in and realize his bed is empty. Which is strange because I saw him leave to go to bed around 10. Looking around I find his closet and I am in complete shock. I open the door to find images of a women , not a naked playboy type of woman. More like the girl that you would see walking down the street . One picture of her catches my eye. She looks happy. Her hair is in a short amburee bob and her makeup is flawless. Her eyes are these blueish green color and her smile says “ i’m good but I also can be wild”. It takes awhile for me to realize that she’ sitting in my room. Like my present room. I begin to get worried and concerned because this is the only picture that is of her in real lighting. The rest look like they were taken in a room:a dark one. A room like — a basement. She doesn’t look happy in the other one’s either, she doesn’t have emotion at all .And there the noise is again. More like a banging sound from his room then from mine. I have to find out what it is.

    I begin walking down the stair case and arrive in front of the basement steps. Now i’m nervous. The one specific rule he gave me the day I moved in was not to go into the basement. And I remember getting shivers down my spine from the way his cold gray eyes stared at me when he told me. I never forgot that look. I open the door and the sound becomes more like muffles , Like someone is screaming but there mouth is covered . I walk down the step and I cannot believe my eyes….. Its her it the girl . The one that decorated his closet. I quickly ran to her and pull the rag that was tied over her mouth.

    The first words she says to me is “ You shouldn’t have come down here”.

    Before I could respond to her I was knocked out cold. By a bat or a shovel I dont know. But When I woke up my head was trobbing and it hurt like hell. Before long I realized I was in chains. My roommate had his camera out taking my pictures. I guess this is what happens when you don’t follow the rules.

    p.s Never really share my work and wanted to try something new so tell me what you think 🙂

  3. SkylarWolfe

    Slowly creeping down the steps, I listen and hear nothing. It’s dead silent and it’s too dark to see much. I go to turn all the lights on and I feel something slimmy running down the wall, not sure what it is as I slide my hand along the wall for the switch. I am just about to turn the light on when, all of a sudden, I feel another hand go for the switch! But was it at all a hand? I’m about scream as I am officially terrified. I try to find my way back but everything goes pitch black. Not a single bit of light. Then I see a sliver of light as I start to wake up. I’m in a room I’ve never seen before, there’s a man infront of me. I’m not sure who he is but I seem to be eyeing him as he eyes me right back. I don’t know what to do. My fear and curiosity contradicting my decisions on what to do. All I do is sit there, staring at this strange man whom I can’t fully recognise. He looks so familiar but he seems like a stranger. I haven’t a clue of what’s going on. It’s a complete jumbled up mess in my mind. Suddenly, he moves. He comes towards me. I realize he is speaking but I can’t hear him, even though I can see his mouth moving. Then, the man just freezes. All I can hear is a ringing like a fire alarm. I see him fall to the floor. What is going on?! Nothing is making any sense as I try to scream but have no voice and try to move but left without a choice. I think I’m crying. I don’t even know. I can barely feel anything. It’s like a dream. Well, more like a nightmare of the sort. But nothing bad has happened. Maybe something bad must happen to cause it all to go away. Maybe it truly is a nightmare. Maybe it’s like all my other nightmares where I wake up just before I die. Just maybe I can end whatever this is. All I have to do is wake up and… Well then its all over. Once more I try to move but I seem to be paralyzed, though I’m still unsure. My head seems too jumbled up for me to think straight. Ok maybe I should just stop and think…. Wait… Where is the man from earlier? Shit he might have been my only chance. I start cursing at myself as I may very well be stuck in this never-ending abyss of unanswered questions and confusing realities. I want to leave this place! Why can’t I move? Why can’t I speak? Why can’t I hear? Why? What have I done to deserve such a decievingly disastrous fate? I’m so lost yet I’ve never moved in any direction to be lost. Did I not bypass the path of destruction and hate? I feel nothing… Nothing, what is nothing anyway? Wait… If this all along has been a dream then don’t I have control? It’s my head. I scream for what seems like hours but nothing comes out. After trying to convince myself I can do it for so long, I finally hear a squeak. Then I try to move I can wiggle my toes and fingers. Ok, now all I have to do is get up then I realize my eyes are closed. Or maybe it’s just dark… I open my eyes. Aww yes ok. The room I’m in isn’t dark, I’m just on the floor. I can see a small amount of light. Here we go… I can do this! It’s my dream! I get up but fall down to the floor dizziness over-taking me. I get up and everything is quite clear now. I can see why its so dim. There’s a broken light. I look around but nothings there. Maybe im in a basement. I can see stairs and some wooden posts. I close my eyes trying to think then when I open them again it’s really bright, at least, compared to how bright it was a second ago. I feel fully awake now. My eyes adjust and I stretch and yawn. I can move! I can hear! That nightmare was odd but it did its job. I’m awake, my heart pounding, even still, due to what happened in the nightmare…

  4. SkyFox

    SECOND POST! Please critique and tell me where I went wrong. I would love to know 🙂

    Why in every creepy story, in every movie dose it have to be so fucking cold.
    I mean, yes I know I am walking down some stairs in the middle of the night and its dark and its got the whole ‘abandoned’ feel.
    But would it seriously kill them to put a heater in down here.
    Even a really, really nasty one would do.
    I mean what am I even doing down here? This is the part where the person jumps out with a chainsaw and turns me into confetti.
    But I cant help it. Something drawing me, making me go.
    Also doesn’t help that this tapping noise have been keeping me up all night and I am talking about past 9’o’clock. I’m talking 3 in the morning and its still going.
    Tap…Tap…Tap all night long. Never stopping.
    So this is why I am currently freezing me arse off walking down to the basement.
    Its dark now. I can barely see where I am going.
    I seriously hope I don’t swallow a spider or something. You’ll here me screaming in like.. Alaska? Is that a country? Or a state?
    There a glow or something at the end of the stairs.
    The light hurts and I can barely see.
    There’s a door.
    Yes a door. I know you wanted it to be a telporter or some top secret base but its only a door.
    Except its got a really,really weird symbol on it and I since I spend most of my time texting I know it isn’t one of those.
    Oh and did I forget to mention its glowing. Its glowing. A really bright green.
    Its got a handle on it.
    I open it and it glides forward smoothly.
    I open my eyes- yes I had my eyes closed- and its only a room.
    Full of mirrors of every shape and size, with ornate frames.
    There is something in the furthest corner.
    The floors not dusty at all.
    Someones in the mirror.
    Its me.
    I smile in relief. There was nothing creepy down here. It probably was just rats.
    Grinning I turn around but stop.
    Because the pers-me has sharp teeth like a sharks and its eyes were pure red.
    The mirror moves, rippling like waves. And the thing inside it steps out its feet crack the floor.
    I try to move but my legs wont respond.
    Its leaning towards me.
    Its opening its jaws and…

  5. Liz Johnson

    I cannot fathom the source of the dreaded noise. The noise, this infernal tapping. Through the hours of the night. Tap, tap, tap. I can’t sleep with this noise. Always this noise.

    Grasping my covers, I toss them aside like the discarded efforts of slumber. I stretch my cooling limbs as I find my footing on the cold, wooden floor. My night gown flared tightly on my hips as I moved towards the damned noise. I wiped my worn eyes as I slid silently down the stairs towards the basement door.

    The sound of the snoring fellow inhabitants of the house rang behind me as I grasped the cold brass knob of the door. My breath was caught low in my chest. My blood pulsed in my ears. Not a sound came from the door before me. Not a rap or a tap. Nothing.

    The air beyond the door was foul. The sour stench of mold and decay caressed my lungs causing a reflexive gasp. There was a rustle deep in the dead air before me. Movement at the bottom of the steps. My eyes could not make sense of the form bellow me, but a dread engulfed my soul. I stepped into the darkness, descending into what could be Hell itself, but I had to know.

    There was a dim light flickering in the corner of the concrete room. My feet cringed from the texture of the freeze abyss of a floor. I walked toward the light. My heart raced with fear. No, anticipation.
    A hollow face stared into me as I came closer to the corner. The face, my face, stared back at me through the glass of the mirror. It was a mirror. A simple mirror with a small candle in front of it. I relaxed ever so slightly, taking a deep breath.

    “What are you doing here?” I glanced with fear towards the steps expecting to see the stern face of my hostess. Blackness. Nothing, and yet the words still rang in my ears.
    There was a crackling laugh. It pierced deep into my soul. “You are a funny one, aren’t you?”

    The tapping began. Slowly, almost silent, like rain hitting a window in spring. It was behind me. The mirror. My eyes slithered towards the noise. It was my own face staring back at me, but it wasn’t me. She echoed my soul and yet, she was not me.

    “W-w-w-what…is this?” I stutter as I began to shake. She grinned an unwholesome grin as she curtsied.
    “Why, I am you. Can’t you see that? I am the you that leaves the shadows in your slumber.” Her grin increased as she withdrew a lifeless head from behind her. It was the lady of the house. The one from whom I was renting. Her face held the fear of her final moment.

    “What have you done?!” I squealed.

    “No. What have you done?” I glanced down at my hands, red with blood. What have I done?

  6. Danielsma

    That was it. I absolutely was not going to spend another night wondering what was going o n in that basement. I promised my roommate that I would not go downstairs but screw that. I gripped the handle to the basement door. Strange, it was cold to the touch. It was almost as if I had touch the walls of a freezer. Testing to see if the door was locked, I turned the handle. The door was open. I peaked down the narrow pathway and saw that it was a finished basement.

    “Oh, thank god,” I said. “That means no creepy murder rape ghost.

    The staircase walls were decked with pictures of NFL teams, each was autographed and signed by the coaches. How my roommate got these signatures was beyond me. As I descended the hallway I heard a voice. It was distant, but it was the voice of my roommate. Other voices followed.

    I heard whispered cheers and claps of excitement. The strangest part was the sound of what sounded like Tinkerbell flying by sprinkling the air.

    What the heck was going on?. More strange sounds followed. The sound of a sack of flour bursting open followed by more sprinkling sounds. I heard multiple stomping and grunting. Someone was struggling with something. The grunting sounded odd. It was like a chip-monk or tiny person had inhaled helium.
    I peaked around the corner and saw grown men decked out in leotards and glittered skirts. They were standing around a two bowls filled with what looked like tiny people fighting. A sign on the outside of the bowl read “Pixie Bruh Down.” One of the fighting pixies erupted into a plume of sparkles and smoke. One of the men in a glittered leotard jumped up in excitement grasping at his hair. The man was in shock.

    “NOOOOOO,” shouted the man. He continued to shout and swear up a storm while his companions laughed hysterically until he looked up and saw me. It was my roommate. “Oh bro,” he shouted in surprise. “What are you doing down here?” he quickly stopped mid sentence and looked at his glittered get-up.

    “Ummm, I don’t know what I’m seeing right now. So~ I’m going back up to my room, to~…yea,” I said.

    “Whoa, bro! It’s not like man. This get-up…” he gestured to the entirety in a circular motion. “It’s just our fraternity initiation outfits.” He continued to stammer on as I looked stared absolutely confused on what I was seeing. I guess I should have kept my promise to never go down into the basement.

    I was not convinced nor was I sure what was happening. Here I was standing in a basement. My friends’ basement filled with men. My friends’ basement filled with grown men dressed in glittered leotards. Grown men in my friends’ basement dressed in glittered leotards wearing skirts. All of which were standing around a bowl titled “Pixie Bruh Down”.

  7. Spinypine

    (Forbidden Basement – You are renting a room in someone’s house as you transition to living in a new city. The owner tells you that basement is absolutely, 100% off limits. You don’t bat an eye at this request, until you start hearing noises from the basement at night. After several weeks of this, you sneak downstairs to see what’s going on. Finish the scene.)

    My boss had asked my if I was interested in taking a temporary assignment out of town to bring some new staff up to speed. It would be in Richmond, Virginia, probably lasting six months or so. With the project’s per diem and having nothing better to do, I said OK. My girlfriend hooked me up with AirBnB and she found me an attractive house in Richmond, not too far away from the university and the job site.

    I flew down to Richmond and Uber-ed my way to the house. I met met up with Edgar, apparently the owner, and we went over the ground rules. He had to be away for a while but I would have the run of the house, except for the basement. Given the cost of the place and my per diem, I said that would be fine. I might even make some money.

    The work was pretty straight-forward. The company had done pretty well recently and hired a bunch of new staff in the shipping group. I was training them. I’ve done it tons of times, but it takes a while. After a few months or so, however, I realized that my classes weren’t running as smoothly as they had. I was distracted; I was tired. I was sleeping poorly. I was waking up in the middle of the night to some sort of weird rhythm. Everyone was learning what they needed, but as the training progressed, I didn’t have that pep to present the way I used to have.

    One night, right before a double espresso and right after bedtime, I was wide awake. I heard a sound. And it clicked. The sound didn’t “click” but it made sense now. When I was trying to go to sleep each night, there was this Thub! Thub!! Thub!!! distracting me, coming from the basement. That was messing up my sleep.

    Ping! Now that I knew, I had to explore. Edgar was an excellent host, but still I needed to get into the basement… I heard the sound again.

    It was coming from in the basement. This Thub! Thub!! Thub!!! was coming from behind the basement door. And now it was getting Louder! Louder! Louder! I knew this was the distraction. I knew I had to find the source of the thub. I knew, also, I wasn’t allowed down in the basement. I knew also, also, that Edgar wasn’t home. I turned the knob.

    I got to the bottom of the stairs. Now, the noise was deafening. It seemed like it knew I was looking.

    Thub! Thub!! Thub!!! It was coming from the main part of the cellar – not in the corner workshop or over by the coal bin. But it was loud. I couldn’t quite place it.

    Thub! Thub!! Thub!!! I looked around. Under the snow tires. Behind the beer fridge. Near the washer and drier. Nothing. As I looked around, I saw a spot on the ceiling where the sound seemed to be coming from.

    Curious, I found a chair in the corner of the basement and dragged in under the thumping under the ceiling. It was getting louder. I got off the chair and went back to the shop area and found a screwdriver.

    Louder! Louder! Louder! I went back to the chair and climbed on.

    Louder! Louder! Louder! Locating the source of the deafening sound, I pried the ceiling planks down. Years of dust coated my face.

    And plop into my hands. There, there, still beating, was the hideous heart.

  8. writer93

    i saw my face in the mirror. this is me – aadith. A regular obsessive compulsory activity i do after coming home from work. I see a sad puny panda’s face in the mirror. The dark circles mean a lot and all of them means the same – LOSER! Men would either mistake me for a geek or a screw up. Girls just don’t bother. I had lovely eyes, my mom used to say. who else would admire if not for the beautiful mother panda. I never trusted that but then one day i opened my childhood album. i saw him..i saw in his eyes not joy but innocence. I was worrying from that time may be, about what not?!? innocence engulfed in the ocean of worries thats how i see orbits of darkness around my eyes. ” enough for the evening” i thought. Eye lids wanted to hug my eye balls. I let them romance as I tried to doze off…..

    The basement was as usual filled with the happy mourners. beautiful and ugly ladies, gauche and handsome men, all had something to do in common. the hall was a wooden marvel. delightful carpets and mushy furnitures had adorable people masking their actuals. They exchange good words as they prepare a eulogy for thyself in their mind. happy sufferers and nights at the basements are all that they have to suck out their lost self.

    Mona was the cherry on the cheese cake. one and half eyes of all men were busy sending details about her curves to their brains. the brain whistles on capturing the outline. Even the anchor of the evening, MIranda couldnt help hes eyes stopping to see her. blocking her off the sight , one can see a glow in everyone else’s face. they are passionate about what they do. right from a kiss of a passionate couple to the bartender whose mouth never arcs down. vibrant emotions brimming through everyone’s eyes when they do what they want. alright! why do they do it here. they have pubs, their bedrooms and more interesting places. but why this basement? clueless!

    the lights went off for the spot light o be visible. ” re-introducing our very own chocolate chip- Romeo!” lights hit his shoes as he sent the first wave of electric strumming piercing the crowd. the lights flew up to his guitar picks. The instrument was a black beauty. she was longing to be made love with romeo. She wanted passionate strums! If she really had been a woman, she would have made the noises of her life. the stage was feast of colors all of them gleamed through the edge of his wayfrer. lips tight in the begining , every one could sense a impending musical roar. ” I hate the way i dumped you, should have been better” went the lead line… drums, pads, guitars and Romeo stole the show all together. Women felt a tingling sensation. Men – simply jealous.

    Romeo’s heart resonated with the only being in the crowd and the cherry tumbled. she went up on her heels involuntarily , Romeo removing off the guitar pacing towards Mona. The lights went on and off and glimpses were visible – sailing towards each other in the crowd and the final lasting glimpse was when romeo strummed mona.

    cigar and Smirnoff, thats how he wants his hands to be engaged. lips to be dancing in words with the love of the night and mind highlighting the dominating character of the night. feeling the lightness of the body and heaviness of emotions, they slip into each other with full acceptance. no more spot lights on the stage or the hall but on minds. is everything over for the night…..!?

    sees his eyes engulfed in darkness in the mirror. A morning routine too. adjusts his tie… , mobile cries in alarm. ” wish ex!” its her birth day. moments of shit hits his mind. how badly dumped? dumping is something usual for a hard nut girl. but she was sinistral, ” i din love the way i dumped you, could have been better!” no time for introspection, passionate love and lovemaking. may be thats the reason!? anyway no time now. aadith was hurrying down the stairs. he could concentrate on the counsellings happening on either sides of his way out of the building. he could see dark circles, ugly women and gauche men counseled by beautiful ladies and handsome men.

    “this is how every pair in the basement ends up.
    they are liked for what they are. Not pretty sure if the same love would come out on regular roads. they know what portion of them should dominate. They have classified characters which blossoms in the basement. but why not all the time ? there are people around you watching, the actual loved ones. eyes- cold, cunning, evil , love too at times – watching every bit of them. the regular night lives in pubs and bars are not that welcoming. the day is demanding- socially, mentally, filial and conjugal engagements. ” – a piece of advice to parents longing for their son’s mental health. this was a place purely out of the box but with proven results. ” all that we give is an abandoned basement and hence tingle their mind to get off the limits.” this how the every counselor ends up talking to their refugees.

    somebody pulled aadith by his collar, “wayfrers are good, but u don need them any more, innocence is still there and worries fading off, rest well talk this night, and im singing tonight-” i love the way you strummed” , bye baby…” mona was a true love chick. good set of strings and loved to be strummed. and he was amazed to see eyes of male jealousy all over. aadith was already late. zoomed off in his car to work. stopped in few meters away by a passer by asking for a detail pointing to the building from which aadith came, ” thats refugee’s nest right!?” . this is day time and its time for acceptance to reality. ” yes it is , meet you at the basement tonight….. ” aadith was hanging on. ” charlie..”
    “ya meet u at the basement charlie, tonight, bye cya” . aadith was out there ready to be bruised by eyes and words of barbs. His very own basement waits his presence.

    ” c ya, meet u at the basement” – writer93!

  9. thatbillguy

    Carrol pressed her ear to the antique basement door. The rough surface had a slight tack to it and the smell of varnish suggested a recent refinishing.

    She had only been in the city for a few days when she lucked up on the room in a highly competitive rental market.

    ***

    “Miss Sims,” the older woman in the doorway asked.

    “Yes,” Carrol said. “Carrol.”

    “Well, Carrol, I’m Amanda.”

    “Nice to meet you,” Carrol said. “Thanks for seeing me so late.”

    “Come in, it gets cold fast around here after sundown.”

    Amanda led her to the small room in the back of the house. It was a classic mother-in-law suite, complete with a full bath, small kitchenette and a studio-style living/bed room.

    Amada pointed to a door between the kitchen counter and small mudroom and said, “That is the outside entrance, so you will have some privacy with your comings and goings.”

    Carrol nodded. A chill crept through her clothing. The house was old and a gentle, cold draft found its way past the defenses of her clothing.

    They left the room and down a wide hallway. Amada stopped them in front of the old door.

    “Down there,” Amanda said pointing down the hall “is the laundry room. Feel free to use that any time. But this door, the basement, is absolutely off-limits. I’m afraid I must insist.”

    ***
    She looked over her shoulder, beyond the living room to the front door and strained to catch any noise from anywhere other than the basement.

    She put her hand on the knob and tried to turn it. It didn’t budge.

    “Damn,” she whispered.

    With her ear back on the door she could hear faint noises, muffled by the thick oak and metal.
    The sounds beyond the portal and beneath the house danced at the boundary of comprehension. She couldn’t make out voices, but rhythmic and tonal changes suggested communication as her mind struggled to find familiarity among the indistinguishable sounds.

    Then there was a creaking, squeaking, approaching sound masked in footfalls.

    She stood bolt upright. She felt her face flush with rising guilt and embarrassment. She turned left and then back right and then left again. She froze as if stranded at a great height with a weightless knot of vertigo bouncing in the pit of her stomach.

    The doorknob rattled and the catch slipped from its notch.

    Carrol held her breath and ran on the balls of her feet, nearly silent, down the hall to the laundry room. She huffed in air and propped herself on the washer.

    “Carrol?” It was Amada. Carrol heard her gently padding down the hall. “What are you doing?” She asked.

    “Just some laundry,” she said, looking down at the empty washer and dryer. “But I forgot my stuff in the room,” Carrol spread her arms and smiled with a theatric shrug.

    “I see,” Amanda said. “Were you at the basement door just now?”

    “Um—Yes. I’m sorry.”

    “Would you like to come down?”

    “But…”

  10. cosi van tutte

    Critique’s story inspired me. So, one last one before the prompt changes….

    So, you see. I wanted to experience a real Oktoberfest. Like the real, genuine thing. No Michelob with Snyder’s pretzels for me. So, of course, I went to Bavaria. Sad truth: I always thought that Bavaria was just an old slang word for Germany. I had no idea that it was its own identity.

    So, I get there all in one piece. And let me tell you: It’s nothing like Frankenmuth. Sure, it has its fair share of Frankenmuth cookie cutter buildings. But, there’s mountains like all over the place and rolling green hills. Maria from Sound of Music would have a great time there.

    I explore the city till I’m too tired to explore any more. I get over to the local inn. I’d gladly tell you the name of it, but the name is like 500 letters long. They all barely fit on the sign.

    I go to the receptionist desk and check in. The receptionist is a perky blonde who flutters her eyelashes at every young, half-way decent looking guy who comes up to the desk. She doesn’t flutter her eyelashes at me, which offends me at first. Then, I figure she’s just resting her eyelashes. It must be exhausting to flutter them that much. She gives me a key to my room. And it’s a real key. No plastic card here. It’s a wrought iron affair with fancy swirls and curlicues.

    Then, things get weird. She looks at me all serious like and garbles out a long sentence in German or Bavarian or whatever it is they speak there. It sure ain’t English. I smile in a vacant way and nod my head.

    She stops in mid word and tries again in broken-up English. “Don’t go into the basement. It is forbidden.” Yeah. She didn’t say it like that, but that was the general gist of it.

    My smile turns even more vacant. Like why would I go poking around in their basement? Do tourists here have a bad reputation for doing crazy junk like that? “Don’t worry. I’ll stay out of there.”

    She smiles all bright and perky and turns her attention to the next customer. She flutters her eyelashes like crazy at him.

    ***

    So, here I am. All tucked into bed and thinking happy thoughts about the supper I had. It was everything an Oktoberfest meal should be times a million. No. A zillion. I’ve never had such fat and fluffy pretzels before. Not even at the mall. And don’t even get me talking about the beer and the thick sliced ham and the sauerkraut and that weird black jiggly thing they served for dessert.

    I am stuffed and sloshed and ready for lots of sleep.

    So, I close my eyes. And I’m not even thinking about the stupid basement.

    So, when I wake up in the middle of the night and find myself in the basement, yeah. I’m completely confused. It’s just a boring, cruddy, unfinished basement with a big, blocky furnace in the middle. What was the whole deal about “oooo. Don’t go into our basement. ooooo.” Was she just spamming me? Or what? And how did I even get down here?

    Well. I guess I walked down here. But why would I do that?

    I have no idea about anything. So, I decide to be sensible and go back to bed. I look at the long staircase. It had to be like twelve miles long. “Nope.” I curl up on the dusty floor and close my eyes.

    I’m not sure how long I slept before those chipmunk voices woke me up. I open my eyes and get up into a sit. My head doesn’t like that idea all that much. It’s still sogged up with Bavarian beer.

    The voices chip and chirp at each other like Alvin and the Chipmunks on helium. My head doesn’t like that either.

    The noise seems to be coming from the other side of the furnace. So, I get myself weaving and wobbling over there to tell the talking mice or chipmunks or whatever to shut the heck up. Only I wasn’t going to use the word heck.

    I get around the furnace and slog to a stop. Maybe it’s the beer affecting my brain in weird and bizarre ways, but dude! There were these little elf guys sitting on the floor cutting up leather and stitching them into shoes.

    “Whaaa?”

    They stop their hard night’s work and stare at me in unison. The largest one squeaks, “Oh, no! We’ve been spotted!” The rest of the elf crew squeak, “Oh, no!” in their annoying helium voices.

    “Gwaaa!” I meant to say “Shut up!” but well. “Gwaaa!” came out instead.

    The leader takes off his fuzzy little elf hat and throws it on the floor. “Well!” he squeaks and I wish he’d shut up. I really do. “I have never been so insulted in all my life! Good-bye!” He and the other elf guys disappear.

    “Yeah? Well. Good riddance.” I curl up on the ground and go back to sleep.

    ***

    I woke up with a stiff neck, a sore back, and an aggressive headache. I groan and moan and wish that I were dead.

    A battering ram of Germanic words slams into my head. I squinch my eyes open and see the receptionist standing there. Normally, this would have been a pleasant surprise, but she didn’t look all that pleasant.

    “I told you not to come down here.” Again, this is a rough approximation of what she said in her chopped up English.

    “I—uhh—” My voice sounded like a frog with a frog in his throat. “I walked in my sleep and wound up down here.”

    “You scared away my cobblers! Why would you do that? Don’t you know anything about anything? Elf cobblers do not like to be seen! You have ruined my side business. You are no longer welcome here. Pack up your things and leave post haste!”

    I would have objected, but I just smiled vacantly and nodded my head.

    My head didn’t like that at all.

    1. gamingtheblues

      This. *points up* This is what I am talking about. Cosi, This story was beautifully written. The casual “speaking to your reader” tone came out perfect and effortless. I loved your main character, he is casually entitled (Shocked if he is not American), the details and pacing were excellent. I could not say more about how well written and laid out this is.

      The plot itself is cute, but the real treat is what a pleasure it was to read. Excellent job.

  11. Critique

    The quaint two-story was spotless, a short walk to the bus stop and – most important – Amos could afford the rent at least for a while until he found a job.

    While laying down a few house rules about the shared facilities, the grandmotherly landlady pointed to a closed door off the kitchen. “The cellar. It’s off limits okay?”

    Amos nodded.

    “I think you’ll fit in nicely.” She smiled eyeing his meager belongings as she bustled down the hallway and using a key, opened a door.

    The bedroom was tiny – a far cry from the spacious art studio he’d left behind in another country. A familiar tightness invaded his chest. He’d known Ana less than three months but she’d stolen his heart – and his sculptures – when she disappeared. Then, she turned up dead and although innocent he became the number one suspect. In that country you were guilty, jailed, until proven innocent. Amos was safely home on American soil, free, and feeling shell shocked.

    Three weeks into the new place, Amos lay wide awake on the lumpy mattress. Every night he was awakened by weird noises underneath the floor boards. Frustrated, he’d pulled on some jeans and tiptoed to the forbidden basement door and opened it.

    The smell of freshly cut wood, paint and varnish assaulted his nose.

    Hearing the murmur of voices and laughter he descended and his eyes widened in astonishment at what he saw when he reached the bottom.
    Shelves stocked with figurines blocked every available wall space and at a rectangular worktable sat three men – they looked rather like elves in a Santa workshop – chuckling at some shared joke, all industriously sanding or painting figurines.

    At the far end of the table a large bearded man sat carving a block of wood on a mitre saw. He glanced up, saw Amos and killed the motor instantly.

    “We have company.” He said quietly.

    Four pairs of eyes locked onto Amos. The work stopped – tools and brushes suspended in midair.

    “I couldn’t sleep.” Amos couldn’t tear his gaze away from the miniature wood carvings of hunters holding guns or bows and arrows with dogs at their feet. Forest creatures and birds of every description and colour. Even at a distance his artistic nature told him the workmanship was exquisitely detailed.

    “You’re trespassing.” The bearded man moved towards Amos.

    “This is fantastic.” Amos whispered gesturing towards a figurine.

    A large hand descended on his arm.

    “Please.” The bearded man said. “No one can know what happens here.”

    A story unfolded of how a rival company tried to replicate their work and when confronted threatened violence. A lawsuit was pending.

    In a few short weeks Amos felt right at home in the cellar as he honed his skills in a new art form.

    1. Beebles

      Lots of excellence to choose from in this Critique. When the MC first entered the cellar I liked the language that created that sense of threat and suspense. And a delightful ending indeed.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I loved the soft landing and fun ending of your story, especially at this time of year. Your descriptions of the basement, the men that worked there and the figurines was spot on and added a lot of color to your tale.

    2. gamingtheblues

      Hi Critique! Let’s see…

      I thought the tone and description of the scene as he descended the stairs was good. I enjoyed the danger/not danger question in the air. Also the idea of an illegal santa/not santa worship is intriguing.

      The only question I have is, what connection does the dead ex-girlfriend have to the story. It is a detail that could be used for some emotional dramatics or at least a key to the heart of your MC. But your MC’s heart appears to lie with his craft. Without a tie in to the larger…atmosphere of the story, it is a somewhat distracting element.

      The tone was spot on, and you have a good “eye” for detail so to speak.

      1. Critique

        Thank you so much for your comments gamingtheblues. I questioned the ex-girlfriend paragraph too – it was my attempt to provide a little background to Amos’s situation.

  12. Cceynowa

    I moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma on a promise of a grant to continue my agricultural research at the university. Impulsive? Arrogant? Yes, possibly. I has some inside knowledge that the board was going to push through my proposal and that I’d be sitting pretty in the field in no time at all, so I terminated my lease, sold my excess furniture, and moved in with a buddy from my undergraduate years. He and I had kept in touch enough that it wasn’t outrageous for me to ask to spend a few weeks with him while I found a place of my own. He had inherited his family’s massive farm house and, since he was still single like me, he readily agreed. He did give me one small condition after I had unpacked my suitcases: The basement was off limits. No question. No exception. No matter what I heard, I was NEVER to open the door to the basement.

    Fine. Cool. It was late September so I had little worry of a freak tornado (my biggest fear in moving to Oklahoma) driving me underground. Ryan and I fell into a comfortable pattern. I spent my days looking for a place and getting to know the city while he worked. At night we drank and swapped stories of our lives before, during, and after our college graduation. The second week I was staying with him, I returned a bit early from apartment hunting and found myself alone in his family’s ancient home.

    The house’s daytime silence was in stark contrast to the sounds I heard at night. In the dark the floors creaked, the wind rattled the windows, and I could hear moaning down in the basement. Ryan had smoothed my fears easily enough, explaining that the house was built in colonial times and the sounds were perfectly normal. I had lived in modern housing my whole life and found the wooden floors, carved staircase, and solid stone fireplace to be overwhelming and, honestly, a bit creepy.

    Ignoring the irrational dread I felt inching up my spine, I decided to grab a beer from the fridge and wait on the porch for Ryan to get home. I told myself the day was too pretty to be wasted inside. I lied to myself again when I head the soft moaning start in the basement. Maybe the boiler? Or a furnace? Surely.

    I dropped my beer when I distinctly heard my name called from behind the basement’s door.

    “James.”

    I willed my breath to slow.

    “James.” Again my name, slightly louder. “Help me James!”

    That was Ryan’s voice. He sounded in pain.

    I found myself standing before the door. My hand hovering above the knob.

    “Please.” He was crying. I could hear his ragged breathing.

    My hand gripped the doorknob before I asked myself why would Ryan be crying? Why wasn’t he at work? Didn’t he warn me?

    As if in response to my thoughts, the door suddenly began to shake and bow outward. Something inhumanly strong was beating against it. I fell back, my hands covering my ears against the terribly banging. “JAAAAAAAAAAAAAMES!” Whatever was behind the door was half screaming, half growling my name.

    Ryan found me sitting on the porch half an hour later. I was still in my piss stained jeans and chugging my eighth beer.

    “You didn’t open the door, did you?” He asked.

    “Fuck no man,” I slurred. “What fuck?”

    “Man,” he sits down beside me. “Man I got a problem.”

    ###

    1. regisundertow

      Finally, someone who didn’t open the bloody door 🙂
      The tense change in the last sentence threw me off, but it’s a minor issue. I would gladly read 20 pages of this. I found the characters a little more grounded than expected and that was a big plus for me. You know how people in horror films always act irrationally? It seems to me your characters have more brains than that and that’s refreshing.

      1. Cceynowa

        Ugh. Tenses. The bane of my writing existence. 🙂 I really wanted James to open the door, but, honestly, I was at a loss as to what he was going to find. I’m working on it, but pretty sure I need to flesh out both my characters before tackling the forbidden basement. (I’m a coward at heart… not sure I want to open the door yet.

  13. strose

    It is midnight and I can’t sleep because there’s something rustling in the basement. My landlord said to not go down there but what if he has a murder room down there and I’m just letting poor young girls rot in cages underneath my kitchen? How can I live with myself if I don’t check? So, I think… I send a text message to three of my friends saying, “Something is in my basement. I’m going to check what it is. If I don’t message you back in half an hour some to my house at 412 Burberry Lane.” I grab my pepper spray, a flashlight and my phone. I’m doing this! I walk to the basement door nervously. Then I twist the door knob. It’s locked. I shake the door knob to see if it’s stuck then I hear a “BOOM.” Something slammed itself against the door. I scream and call my friend Johnny. Then I hear, sigh.
    “Hello?” I ask the door. Nothing. Johnny answers his phone.
    “What was that text message? Are you okay?”
    “Get your ass over here now!”
    “Why?”
    “There’s something in the basement.”
    “Umm”
    “Hurry up!”
    “Okay!” Johnny lives close so he should be here in 15 minutes, if he’s quick. I stand at the door. Listening.
    “Hello?” I ask again. I hear a tapping on the door.”
    “Tap twice if you are human.” Continuous tapping .
    “Tap twice if you are trapped.” It keeps tapping.
    “My friend is coming. Do you want me to open the door?” It stops. It might not be human. Maybe I should even call my landlord. Maybe he has an answer.
    “I’m going to call Charles. Maybe he help.” Suddenly I hear it stomp down the stairs and throwing things around. “Okay I won’t!… I’ll sit in the kitchen until Johnny gets here.” The noise is just shuffling and things moving in the basement. Johnny finally rolls up in his little beater.
    “What is happening?” He says as I let him in.
    “Listen.”
    “I hear it but…”
    “The basement door is locked. Something is down there.”
    “Okay, can we knock?”
    “I did. It doesn’t talk.” Johnny raises an eyebrow and goes towards the door. He knocks. Suddenly there’s a scream. A long, loud scream.
    “Holy shit! It’s a person!” Johnny says. “Call 9-1-1! I’m going to kick the door down.” I step away and start calling.
    “Emergency operator, how can I assist you?”
    “Hello, there’s someone screaming in my basement. We are trying to break down the door.”
    “Do you know who it is?”
    “I have no idea.”
    “I’m sending police over there now.” Johnny breaks open the door, flips on the light goes down stairs. I follow behind. When we get there, there’s a little bed, armoire, and a toy house. But no one is in the room. Then we hear the basement door shut and the lights go out.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Hi Strose! I’m Gamingtheblues…though most here call me GTB 😉 This is not the first story of yours that I have read, but I wanted to read a few of them to get a feel for the style and flow of your writing before making any comments, suggestions or compliments.

      You have a very eclectic feel to your writing. I have honestly had some difficulty in deciding if the sentence structures are purposeful or just how you typically write your stories. Though, it ultimately does not make a real difference.

      I enjoy the stories you write. They have a genuine heart, and your words hold a simple honesty that many writers would kill to replicate.

      Allow me though to make a suggestion. Be mindful of the way you are structuring your sentences and the stories as a whole. Sometimes awkward wording or sentence structure can pull a reader out of the story and you lose some of that emotional connection that we as writers strive for. An example.

      The line: And then I hear, sigh.

      As a reader I am unsure of how to read that line. Did the character hear a sigh? (which would more look like : And then I hear a sigh from the door..or then I hear a sigh. Or… Then I hear, “sigh” Is the sigh in the characters own head as a purposeful interruption to the narrative?

      A small nitpick to be sure, but the small details are important, and there are other instances. The best way to find these yourself is to read your story out loud, and allow the sentences to tell you what they are saying, and not what you want them to say.

      TL:DR: You are a genuine, honest and intriguing writer; be careful about your sentence structure and look for awkward wording. I look forward to your next story!

  14. SheepCarrot

    I was off doing NaNo last month, but now that it’s over, I’ve got time again. I missed doing these!

    It’s late when I finally arrive home from another long night at work. Nothing like the glamor of being a security guard for a government-run facility. I toss my boots and uniform in a pile in the corner of the room and slip between the covers of my bed. I don’t know that I actually did anything today, but a 12-hour shift takes it out of you regardless.

    My eyelids are just starting to droop when I hear it, same as I have all week. Thuds, metallic clangs and scrapes. I open an eye and stare at the bedside clock. The green numbers glare at me in the darkness. 1:21 AM I roll onto my back, throwing my arm across my eyes and try to ignore the noises coming from the basement. Awful hard to do when it echoes up through the heating vents.

    An abrupt crash downstairs rattles the windows, and with a few choice words I throw the covers back and get up. The hell with my landlord saying the basement is off limits. Whoever is making this racket needs to be told to shut it. Some of us need to sleep.

    I belt my worn terrycloth robe as I walk through the dark house to the stairs. The entire house seems to creak and groan with my every step, but hey, the house was one of the first built in this colony when we settled on this moon more than a century ago. From what I understand, it’s a replica of some of those back on Ancient Earth that fell into the “Victorian” architecture.

    The door swings open on silent hinges—probably the only thing in the house that doesn’t make noise—and I start down the stairs. The light is already on, a bare bulb hanging from the support beams that make up the ceiling. I can’t believe the view before me, even as I blink to clear my exhausted sight. There’s no way this is actually here, and even less of a chance that it’s legal.

    A tiger. A huge, blue-eyed, albino tiger is facing me. A wooden crate that it must have been shipped in is back in the corner, splintered and broken. I shake my head again. “No way. How? Tigers have been extinct for centuries.”

    A voice behind me, at the top of the stairs, startles me. “I told you the basement was off limits, Kevin.”

    “Yeah yeah. Yeah. I know but…a tiger. How?”

    “Little thing they discovered ages ago, Kevin. Cloning. We saved the tiger’s genome in the mainframe, and from that have been able to recreate one, for the right price, of course.” My landlord begins walking down the stairs, each step slow and deliberate. As measured as his words.

    “Why tigers?”

    “Oh there are other animals we do as well. But tigers are special. Majestic. They’ve become as mythical as the dragons back in Ancient China. Only the most elite of our clients can afford one.” When he reaches the step just three above me, he pauses and shakes his head. “You should have listened to me.” He then grips the handrails and, lifting both feet, kicks me square in the chest with a force that has me flying backward, landing heavily on my back.

    I grunt, try to draw a breath. The large cat growls and I hear its huge paws stalking toward me. I manage to roll over and push myself up before the tiger reaches me, but when I look up, its face is just a hair’s breadth from mine. Its lip curls as it growls.

    “I haven’t fed it yet this week. Now it looks like I won’t have to, either.”

    I scramble backward, fear at the realization of his words kicking me into action. The cat hunkers down, and before I can regain my footing and run up the stairs, it leaps on me. I feel its claws ripping open my flesh as its mouth closes on my neck. The fangs pierce my skin, and I can feel my strength draining with my blood. Darkness begins crowding my vision as my breath turns into gurgling gasps.

    The stairs creak under my landlord’s feet as he climbs them, and his voice floats past the descending fog of my senses. “You shouldn’t have come down here, Kevin.” The door clicks closed, then my world turns into darkness.

    1. gamingtheblues

      You have an excellent ability when it comes to laying out a scene and introducing your characters. The inner “voice” of the character is especially on point at the beginning of the story. I enjoyed the plot and especially the sci-fi setting.

      One minor thought, I was pulled from the story just a little at the end. I found your MC’s reaction to being eaten alive just a little too blase, a little objective. The fear didn’t sink in as strongly as I would have liked. (Please note, when I give criticisms, it is to genuinely help, and not nitpick!)

      And remember…the first half especially of your story was masterfully written and I was pulled into your character quickly. Well done!

    2. regisundertow

      Similarly liking the sci-fi angle. That’s how it’s best written; subtle with casual references to future technology and events peppered throughout. The concept of a black market for extinct animals could very well be used to flesh out a larger universe.

  15. Kerry Charlton

    THE LEGEND OF MARY CATHERINE COBB

    Part two, Part one below

    John’s nature was not prone to panic but he grappled with his flashlight until it flooded light through the basement. He kept calling Mary’s name as he explored the vast catacomb area of Nottoway.

    ‘Impossible to disappear,’ he thought. ‘There are no access areas open.’ Those he discovered were frozen with rust and years of neglect. ’You just don’t disappear’, he mused, those that do are in tales of ghosts.‘ Ghosts, the word froze through his veins. She had told her nothing, no last name, where she was from, anything personal.

    He rushed upstairs to the office. Only five couples ever stayed in the house at one time.

    “What did you say the guest’s last name was?”

    “Mary, I have no idea of her last name. She’s about nineteen, auburn hair, green, eyes, slender and beautiful.”

    “Look,” the manager said, “there’s no one here who fits that description. I would have noticed her.”

    When the guests gathered that evening to hear his tales, no one remembered a young girl being there the previous evening. John knew better and the next morning he started his search over in the cold, damp basement. Temperatures were cool but not uncomfortable until he approached a dark corner. Then degrees plummeted, a stillness was interpreted by a soft moaning-cry like voice, barely in evidence.

    John turned quickly toward the sound, a ghostly image of a woman appeared he could barely make out, in front of him. She struggled between the moans and then in the dust before his feet, letters painfully were scrawled until the word could be completed,
    s-e-v-i-h-c-r-a . Moaning ceased and the cold retreated as he studied the message, ‘Of course,’ he thought, ‘distorted’ and then it came, archives. ’Why archives?’

    He looked for her image again and realized she had disappeared. Since he had total access to the house , he searched the displays of costumes in the small museum off the center hallway. Next to the costumes, an ancient plantation desk with a flip up top sat in a corner full of dust. The top was locked and John knew it was a waste of time to ask for the key.

    A quick jimmy with his pocket knife and the drawer revealed newspaper clipping from 1894 as well as personal letters from the time period of the civil war. ‘An historical treasure’, John thought.

    After a great period of patience, the Baton Rouge Chronicle’s clippings of Nottoway and the owners were placed in chronological order from 1862 to 1866 and then suddenly stopped. The story unfolded about Chester Cobb leaving the plantation in Louisiana and moving his slaves to Texas to escape the advancing Union Forces, but what seemed so strange to John was his leaving his wife and 18 year old daughter to wait for the Yankees.

    Hoping to accommodate their forces, he figured the plantation would be saved from destruction., especially with his wife and daughter there. John turned the next clipping over and froze at the sight of the daughter of Nottoway, for rising from the print was the face of Mary Catherine Cobb, that John had entered the basement with.

    His hands shook so badly, he placed the article on top of the plantation desk and started to read a nightmare.

    [To be continued, on next week’s prompt..]

    1. regisundertow

      Oh, damn. If I know my ghost lore well, that’s one restless spirit with a bone to pick. By the way, how dare you leave us hanging like that :p Love me a good old-fashioned ghost story, Kerry, and this delivers thanks to the authenticity you bring to the South.

    2. SheepCarrot

      Excellent, Kerry! I was a little thrown off at the beginning of this part, as the girl was introduced as Rhonda in the first part but now the MC is looking for Mary. Maybe I missed something as I was at work and couldn’t fully concentrate when I read it. Other than that I loved it and can’t wait for the next part! Loves me a good ghosty story. ^.^

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you SheepCarrot, I thought I had changed Rhonda to Mary before I posted it, but it is Mary and the same ghost. Just finishing up part three and will post when the prompt changes. Thanks for following along with me.

    3. gamingtheblues

      Hey Kerry!

      As I have said before, you are a long time alumn of these halls and therefor are deserving of a certain amount of respect. Your ability to “create” is fantastic, with an eye for the small details which are so very important to make a story REAL for the reader. The little things matter, they really do as is proper word choice which you also have a great knack for.

      There is a nuance to your writing, a turning of the word so-to-speak which builds the tone and atmosphere of your stories without being too blatant and in your face.

      There “were” some editing issues that I found here and there. Wrong word in the wrong spot (which typically comes from what I think of as the story forcing itself out ;), one or two mild story inconsistencies (No one remembered the girl, but when she spoke the previous night another gentleman referred to her and agreed with her) for instance. Maybe an awkward word choice here and there…

      But oy the story. You are a master at drawing the reader into the history and heart of your stories. Editing errors plague even the most prolific, successful authors. People do not read the masters of writing for their editing and grammar. They read them for their ability to tell a damn good story, and you sir have that ability.

  16. regisundertow

    Geez, I don’t want to see how Rudolph looks like in that universe. Wasn’t sure where this was going, but as soon as the story turned supernatural, my interested piqued.

  17. regisundertow

    This story takes place in 1968, a few months before the Prague Spring.
    I’m trying out a couple of ideas for a series of pieces I have in mind, so I hope you’ll forgive the length.

    **************************************

    THE GREAT DEFENESTRATION

    There was a stain the color of angry rust on the ceiling. It was right above my modest desk and I needed to crane my head to observe it, but I could feel it even when I wasn’t looking directly at it. The first time I spotted it, I stood on my uncomfortable wooden chair, making it creak like an arthritic joint, and tried to scrape it off the concrete ceiling with my nails. Karel, the other guard, told me not to bother. I’ve tried that a thousand times, he said without energy, his words trailing off. The stain isn’t going anywhere. I watched him staring at me from the corner of my eye, before finally shaking his head and handing me the shift. Force of habit, I whispered as he walked away.

    The room was tiny, windowless and grey, with the exception of Stalin’s leonine face. My first assignment was to hang Secretary Dubcek’s portrait on the opposite wall. The single black desk with matching stamp set, lamp, and telephone on it was made of low quality wood and faced the door to the office. Traffic control, Karel had told me the job was about. Check who comes in, do they have authority? Surely, a Hero of the People can figure it out, he’d say with a furtive look at my empty right sleeve. Not as difficult as holding a village against the fascists by yourself. This post should be a walk in the park.

    I judged Karel to be around 50. Old enough to have wielded a gun in the war, at least. Old enough to have surrendered it when the order to capitulate came.

    I spent most hours in that room staring at the door, doing my best not to think of the stain on the ceiling. My mind was blank, a welcome respite from reading intercepted mail at my old post on the other side of the building. I did my best to ignore the other door, the iron one behind me leading to the basement, standing heavy and silent and immovable. Neither of us had keys for it, neither of us had ever set foot beyond it. I tried probing Karel about it. What’s so important about that door? What is it used for? He’d always shrug and mutter something dismissive in his tilled-earth Ostravian accent. We don’t have clearance. We just control traffic. There’s nothing behind that door.

    ***

    They burst into the office in the middle of the night, the shock almost knocking me off my chair. Wolf-face and Rat forced-marched a shirtless wreck with a hood covering his head, half-lifting him, half-dragging him. Behind them came two more men, one wearing the khaki coat of the Soviet Air Force. The other was thin and remarkable in his plainness, though his posture was straight and his calm demeanour was at odds with the chaos he brought with him. He moved past me without a word and ignoring my raised arm. He deftly produced a key from his pocket and unlocked the iron door. Wolf-face and Rat took the hooded man through it and down steep stairs. The thin man followed them and locked the door behind him.

    I made to come after them, but the Soviet put a friendly yet firm hand on my shoulder. You’re new, he said without an accent. It wasn’t a question. He motioned for me to sit. It’s ok, he nodded and reached into a pocket. Here’s the paperwork, you’ll find everything is in order. I’ll fill the log for you. I know we’re supposed to call ahead, my apologies. Things…escalated.

    I couldn’t hear him. I let the papers sit on the desk as I stared at the iron door. I could feel the stain above me pulsing.

    Wolf-face and Rat exited after thirty minutes, their collars loosened, their sleeves rolled up, and their brows glistening with sweat. The Soviet, who had been talking to me incessantly about his love of Moravian wine and the beauty of the countryside, searched for the thin man and grew silent when he didn’t see him coming through the door. Your compatriot will be in there for awhile, he said with what I thought was sadness. Don’t bother him. And don’t go inside after he’s gone. I’ll send someone to take care of the mess. Be well.

    The Soviet patted Wolf-face and Rat on the back and all three of them left the room. The screaming silence filled my head and my right arm throbbed in phantasm pain.

    The thin man eventually came out, his clothes impeccable. His expression was quiet and collected, almost stoic. Where the two men he accompanied had looked red from exertion, not a single bead of sweat appeared on his face. I peered behind him through the door and he immediately stepped in my line of sight, closing it. He produced a packet of cigarettes and lit one without offering. His eyes fixed on the right sleeve as he exhaled a cloud of ash. The war? He asked. I nodded and replied, Fascist grenade. They tried to flush me out.

    He seemed lost in thought for several moments, the smoke and the quiet between us hanging heavy, while my mind was on the hooded man in the basement. When he finally spoke again, his voice came out raspy. You fought the fascsists, then. You disobeyed orders. We were not to resist. That makes you insubordinate.

    I studied his clothes. A neatly pressed dark blue pinstriped suit without vest, with a plain white shirt and a grey tie around his neck. He wore well-polished black leather shoes. Regimented. Institutionalized. I finally replied, I spent the war in a village up in the Krknose mountains, the orders never reached me. The lie came easily after years of practise. The thin man smirked. Don’t enter the basement, he ordered as he left the room. I’ll be back.

    Above me, the stain refused to fade.

    ***

    I sat immobile for hours, as if I were still freezing in a barn overlooking a mountain pass like all those years ago. It was odd seeing Soviets attached to hunting squads. They normally left us alone. We proved more than capable of taking care of our own Enemies of the Party.

    I couldn’t hear the hooded man’s breath, but it burned hot on my nape from the basement. Wolf-face and Rat were brutal men. They had to be. The Soviets expected the collaborators they spared to be terror incarnate. And those men worked hard to prove their lives worthy of sparing every day. Every bone they shattered, every finger they ripped out warded the same fate away from them. Making a point that they were on the right side.

    A stooped woman, her face lined like a map, shuffled into the office with a broom and and a bucket. She didn’t look at me in the eyes as she stated her business, her weary tone at odds with the official words coming out of her mouth. I checked her papers and made her sign the log, then watched her as she unlocked the iron door and disappeared behind it. She came out a while later, a stained-covered apron visible through a clear plastic bag. She shuffled out without so much as a glance at me. I had spent years during the war scanning endless mountains, because my life depended on it. Looking for reflections off of gun barrels, listening for the marching of boots looking for a defector hiding in an abandoned farm in a village with no name. After the Red Army found me and pinned a star on my chest for a half-truth, I spent years studying the nuances in the letters of others, hunting for clues of disruptive elements between words or the form of a sentence. Picking up on information easily discarded was what had kept me alive, but now I cursed that skill as I noted that the stooped woman had left the basement door unlocked.

    The man had been stripped and tied to the ceiling from his bound hands. A galaxy of bruises decorated his rib cage, which in several places pushed against the skin at unnatural angles. A large gash run from above his lips to his chin, exposing broken teeth. One of his eyes was filled with blood and the other was lost in a mass of swollen flesh. Burn marks covered his genitals and the stink of burned flesh made me gag. He could have been in his early 40’s or he could have been centuries old. He observed me with his one working eye, his head resting against his raised arm. He didn’t change expressions, showed no fear, as I approached him and whispered, What have you done? He held my gaze for an eternity, before he swallowed with effort. I don’t know, he sighed.

    ***

    The interrogation continued the next day and the day after that and the day after that. Each time the thin man entered the basement with Wolf-face and Rat, each time shorter than the previous one. All I could do was sit and try to ignore what was happening as the Soviet thanked his stars we surrendered during the war and saved this beautiful country from being bombed into nothingness. Every day, the stooped woman would come in and clean up the mess and every day I wondered if it was forgetfulness that made her leave the door unlocked or another reason entirely.

    One day, the beatings continued longer than before. I couldn’t hear him, but I imagined his screams sounding more and more desperate, until, with a crunch as exclamation point, they abruptly seized. The thin man stormed out cursing. The Soviet realized what happened and an argument broke out between them in Russian. A stretcher was brought in and Wolf-face and Rat brought the man out on it, covered in a dirty sheet. The thin man disappeared. The Soviet looked at me apologetically. I’m sorry, he mumbled. I wish this wasn’t necessary, but you people refuse to cooperate. Now your Secretary Dubcek calls for reforms and…a lot of people in the Kremlin are upset. Zhal, zhal…It’s a beautiful country.

    He stood up, gave me a formal salute, and left. The rust-colored stain on the ceiling felt unbearable.

    That day, I clocked out early. I didn’t care. A Hero of the People should be allowed to leave early if he wants to, I dismissed my superior as he stood from his seat, jaw muscles tense at the audacity. As I stepped out, the January night wind tore at my face. I half-walked, half-run westwards towards the River Vltava. I needed to see running water. I passed underneath overhanging linden and basswood trees lining the streets, underneath incandescent street lamps throwing shadows thin like a man in a dark blue pinstriped suit standing cold and collected in a basement. The snow crunched underneath my feet. When I reached the waterfront, Prague spiderwebbed below me, the city’s veins covered in cobblestone. The Saint Vitus Cathedral stood guard over the city, its spires lost in the clouds. My feet carried me along the water, past the bridges, and into parts of the city I rarely visited.

    Two great defenestrations the city had already suffered. I could see the window opening for the third one.

    My feet aching and blistering, I reached a white door lost in a maze of grey buildings and knocked on it. After several heartbeats, a bolt slid and the door cracked open by a sliver. The sunken but fierce eyes of a woman in her early-20’s peered through, the black-and-blue on her scrawny face unable to mask the pride and fear and anger in her. Her hands tensed at the sight of my uniform and the State Security insignia on the empty sleeve. I jammed my boot between the door and the frame before she could lock me out. We need to talk about your husband, I said simply, and her defences fell apart. She searched my face for answers. I won’t hurt you, I sighed. I promise.

    Before the door closed behind me, I reckoned I saw a thin shadow standing motionless in the snow.

    1. ajhaughee83

      I definitely felt dropped into a novel here! I liked the comparison with the stain and your speaker – both refusing to fade/give in so to speak. I also liked how you had a name for every character without using actual names. Are there any ideas specifically you wanted feedback on?

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks AJ. It went even longer originally, if you can believe it 🙂

        Glad you enjoyed the metaphor. It served a dual purpose, standing in for both the MC’s tenacity of mind and the Soviets oppressing the country and refusing to be dislodged by the events that follow (Prague Spring).

        I mostly wanted to see whether the Cold War setting still speaks to anyone. With everything that has been going on in the world in the last decade, the Cold War has faded a bit as a universe to set stories in, although there’s lots of parallels to be drawn with today’s climate. I think I’ll need something more than a straightforward story to make it interesting though.

        1. ajhaughee83

          Honestly – for me, the Cold War setting was a little hard to get into. But I don’t think I am your target audience so I am probably not a good person to test it out on! I am a female around 30 and I have always had a hard time getting into war time books or films. Not just the Cold War but also Vietnam and the Gulf War. For me – I would need a really strong, likable female character in any kind of story set in one of those three wars to really get into it. Not sure if that is helpful or not. :-/ But you were at details and symbolism are excellent so it is a good piece overall for sure.

          1. Kerry Charlton

            I was drawn in instantally, there were many movies of the cold war. Your desciptions were fact on,gritty, itelligent and I was also drawn into a novel. What more can I say? It was quite an interesting ride.

          2. regisundertow

            It was helpful in that it reminds me I’ve mainly focused on my MC so far, neglecting any other characters. Obviously, it’s wrong trying to please everyone, but I do think the overall story would benefit by a pivotal female character or three, so thanks for that 🙂

          3. regisundertow

            Many thanks, Kerry. I’m glad to hear there’s still an audience for some good old-fashioned Cold War pieces. I’ve been considering re-writing the piece and setting it in a more futuristic environment for comparison’s sake, but I don’t know if that would just make it too genre-like.

    2. charkhanolakha

      Hey Regis, so this is something I would definitely read as a series. You pulled me right in and I thought your descriptions and settings were extremely real. Like ajhaughee, I loved the stain metaphor.
      The setting definitely speaks to me. I agree with you, there are endless parallels that can be drawn, and also consequences of the cold war that can still be felt in regions like Afghanistan/Pakistan and that are contributing to current world events. So, yes, historical fiction/history is always relevant 🙂 (at least in my book).
      Also, I found this plenty interesting!

    3. Beebles

      Regis old chap. What can I add that has not been said. Again, I am not a big fan of the cold war period, though certainly I have been dealing with the same issues represented by the Prague Spring of late. it is certainly not an era I know much about. That said, your telling of the story, is enjoyable in its own right: the constant eddying of your descriptions, drawing us back to scenes and symbols – the stain, the pin striped suit, etc. I found particularly gratifying. The complexity of motivation I also admire. It left me with the necessary sense of inquiry. I was drawn up, though, by the structure in the sentence about defenestration. Did you choose this deliberately?

      1. regisundertow

        Always looking forward to your comments, Beebles.
        The structure in the defenestration sentence was deliberate, just an inversion for emphasis.

        There’s some debate on whether there ever was a third defenestration, although recent evidence points to a “suicide” of a prominent anti-Communist politician in 1948 to have been an assassination by gravity carried out by the Soviets. This sentence alludes to the MC being unaware of that fact, expecting freedom to metaphorically go out of the window in the following months. A bit esoteric, it’s a reference that the Czechs in my life spotted straight away, but I think it works even without knowing the background.

    4. gamingtheblues

      I did not find the cold war setting off putting or irrelevant. With several world governments actively persecuting their citizens or the citizens of their neighboring countries in our current news, I find all political/quasi-war stories very relevant.

      And you inspired me to educate myself on the first two defenestrations of Prague, which was very interesting.

      This was engaging, well written and deep. Excellent.

      1. regisundertow

        Thanks, Blues, for enjoying this. Always happy to spread knowledge on my beloved Prague 🙂

        What’s interesting to me at least is that the psyche of entire countries became stigmatized by what a good number of their citizens did just to stay alive. There’s a huge amount of guilt over the extent of collaboration with the Soviets against their own countrymen. It was a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Juxtapose this to how we in the West treat our own people, as you said, under the pretext of national security…The Soviets are gone, but history still has a way of repeating itself.

  18. cosi van tutte

    Fair warning: This is another long one:

    Grandma Mae Rose always told me, “If you’ve got something big to say, say it plain, fast, and hard before your own voice can quit you.” So, here goes.

    Mom and Dad almost divorced.

    I don’t know why.

    They would argue in front of me. Mom would start it with soft, hard words building into yells and shouts. Dad would end it every time by giving up and leaving with nothing resolved.

    But neither of them wanted to sit down and tell me what made them so angry.

    Then, Dad almost drowned.

    It wasn’t his fault. It was just a dumb luck thing that happened. An imperfect Dad tripped up by a perfect moment.

    But Mom rushed to his side and their arguing ended.

    They wanted to spend time together to remember the heat of the flame of their love for each other without any distractions. And guess what? I’m a big distraction.

    So, Mom and especially Dad packed me up and shipped me to Aunt Elsie’s for the whole summer.

    Aunt Elsie is our family’s black toothed goat. No one talks about her. No one has any pictures of her. She’s taboo in every possible way.

    And I’m going to be with her for the whole summer.

    Mom and Dad really want me out of the way.

    At least, they didn’t send me alone.

    ***

    Jane closed her journal as Ephrem Pernicious, her gargoyle companion, returned with a plate filled with miniature hot dogs. He sat across from her.

    She looked out the train window. The thunder and lightning had finally died down. Even the rain showed signs of tapering off.

    “It won’t be as bad as you think, Lady Jane. I will be with you.”

    She wrapped her arms around herself.

    “And I will keep you safe.”

    “What is she like?” Jane looked at her companion. “Aunt Elsie…What is she like?”

    He pulled a bamboo skewer out of his jacket pocket. “From my observations, she is quiet.” He skewered the hot dogs onetwothreefourfive all lined up tight. “She reads books. Keeps to herself. Likes dogs. Likes chocolate.” He offered her the hot dog stick. “Do you want one?”

    “No.”

    He shrugged and put the whole thing into his mouth – skewer and all.

    “Will she like me?”

    He swallowed his food before replying, “I don’t know why she wouldn’t.” He picked up his empty plate and stood. “I’m going to get some more of those lovely little meat things. Do you need anything, Lady Jane?”

    She shook her head.

    He started to leave, but stopped and looked back at her. “Your Aunt Elsie has a secret.”

    Jane turned in her seat to face him. “What is it?”

    “There is something hidden in her basement. Something that she guards with a strange jealousy.”

    “Is it dangerous?”

    “I do not know. But I will protect you.”

    ***

    It seemed to take days and years, but it only took us two hours to reach Aunt Elsie’s place. I was nervous and jittery, but I think I would have been worse off if Ephrem wasn’t with me.

    Aunt Elsie was happy to see me. She hugged me and said all of the usual adult stuff: “It’s been too long. Look how tall you’ve grown.”

    She doesn’t strike me as the kind of person with secrets in her basement.

    I like her.

    But Ephrem’s gone invisible. I can still see him, of course, but Aunt Elsie can’t.

    I don’t think she can.

    I don’t know.

    There were a couple of times during supper when I could have sworn that she looked right at him. No. Not looked. Deliberately stared.

    Then, there’s that whole weird bandage around her wrist. Well. Maybe weird is an overstatement. I mean, it’s not like it has Marilyn Manson’s face on it or something. It’s just plain white. Perfectly ordinary. What is weird is her explanation for it: “I broke my wrist.”

    It’s just a plain white bandage! How is that supposed to make her broken wrist heal right?

    I wanted to press the issue, but Ephrem told me to let it go. For now.

    So, I let it go.

    For now.

    ***

    Elsie hauled Jane’s suitcases into the spare bedroom on the second floor.

    Jane smiled at her. “Thanks.”

    “Don’t mention it.” She set the suitcases on the bed. “This will be your room until your parents send for you.”

    “How long do you think that will be? I mean, do you really think I’ll be with you all summer?”

    “I don’t know. Your parents and I…” She made eye contact with Ephrem, who flared out his wings in an aggressive gesture.

    Jane wanted to tell him to calm down, but she couldn’t do that with Elsie in the room. The best that she could do was clear her throat louder than usual.

    He reluctantly lowered his wings.

    “Well.” Elsie returned her attention to her niece. “We just don’t see things the same way.” She smiled. “But I think that you and I see things just right.”

    “What—What do you mean?”

    She shook her head. “Just my own private joke. Good night, Jane. Try not to stay up too late.” She walked over to the door and looked back at them. “And stay out of my basement.”

    ***

    to be continued…

    1. cosi van tutte

      Continuation….

      Stay out of the basement. Why would she say that? I mean, I’m not the kind of weirdo who goes poking around in everyone’s basements. I’m not.

      Maybe Ephrem is right.

      But she’s so nice.

      But…

      But…

      What sort of secret could she be hiding?

      I shouldn’t worry about it.

      I should go to sleep.

      But…

      Why would she say that?

      ***

      “Lady Jane. You should stay here and let me check it out.”

      “You’re right. I should.”

      He flared out his wings. “I am not joking. We don’t know what’s down there. You could get hurt.”

      “Oh, calm down already. I’m not going without you. I’ll be fine. I’ll be safe.”

      He lowered his wings. “I don’t trust your aunt.”

      “I do.” Jane’s voice lacked conviction. If Ephrem noticed it at all, he decided not to point it out.

      “I don’t. She can see me, but she doesn’t say anything about it.”

      Jane shrugged. “Some people are just weird that way. Come on! Let’s go!”

      They left the room and walked down the darkened hallway.

      Jane reached for his hand.

      He took her hand and held it tight.

      They reached the staircase.

      He scooped her up into his arms and flew down the stairs. As he set her on the ground, Jane smiled. “You didn’t have to do that.”

      “The steps creak.”

      Jane took his hand again. Someone had told her once that gargoyles tended to fall in love with those they protect. She glanced at him, but it was too dark to see his face. Was he in love with her? What if he was? Jane didn’t want to reject him, but she didn’t want to be in a relationship with a gargoyle. Not that kind of relationship. She wanted things to remain the same. He was her guardian. She was his charge. Plain, uncluttered parallel lines. No tangles.

      They stopped before the closed basement door. “Are you ready, Lady Jane?”

      “Yes.”

      “I’d hoped you would say no.”

      She flashed a quick smile at him before grabbing the doorknob and opening the door. “Oh, look. It’s dark down there too. Can you see anything?”

      “No. We’ll have to tread carefully.”

      So, they treaded carefully down the fifteen stairs.

      “It’s so dark.” Jane whispered.

      “Are you afraid?”

      “No. I just wish I had a flashlight. Hey! Did you bring one?”

      He sighed. “I didn’t’ think of it.”

      Something in the darkness yowled, “AAARRRUUHH!”

      Jane panicked and ran for the stairs.

      “ELSIE! ELLSIEEE!”

      “Lady Jane! No!”

      It was all darkness.

      Thick, consuming darkness.

      Jane ran and ran, but she couldn’t find the stairs.

      “Lady Jane! Where are you?”

      His voice sounded far away.

      “Ephrem! Where are you?”

      “Lady Jane!”

      She headed towards his voice.

      A door closed and she ran right into it.

      “Ephrem?” She reached out and felt for the doorknob.

      Someone grabbed her arm. Someone with smooth human hands. “Elsie? No. You aren’t Elsie.” He laughed softly in the darkness. “But I think that you will do as well.”

      She tried to pull her arm away from him, but he held tight. “Don’t worry. I’ll only bite your arm. Not your neck.”

      “Don’t…” Her voice came out as a thin whisper. “Please.”

      His teeth punctured her arm. Hard. Sharp. Unrelenting.

      Her mind fogged over. And the darkness filled her.

      ***

      to be continued….

      1. Nicki EagerReader

        Aww, cosi! First time in ages I have time to check out the forum and you leave me stranded like this. More please- I’m on seriously excruciating tenterhooks here… 😀 The story flows really, really smoothly, and the switch in perspective works well- great job.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          A little bit of blood will go a long way. I’m also waiting for part three. Old characters are like old friends, you’re comfortable in their shoes.

        1. cosi van tutte

          And here is the long awaited Part 3…

          I dream of red pain and sharp blood.

          I dream of maroon darkness and sharp teeth.

          Until daylight finally comes and I open my eyes.

          I’m in my room.

          No. Not my own room.

          I am not home.

          I’m still at Aunt Elsie’s place. Maybe whatever happened last night was just a bad, crazy dream. Here’s hoping, anyway.

          But there’s a white bandage on my arm.

          I’m afraid to do it.

          I resist the urge for as long as I can.

          But I do it anyway.

          I remove the bandage.

          ***

          “You’re awake!” Ephrem felt her forehead. “Are you all right? How do you feel?”

          She didn’t reply. She stared quietly at the two perfectly aligned puncture wounds on her forearm. They didn’t hurt. They didn’t burn or throb. They were just there. Two ghastly white puncture wounds.

          “Lady Jane? Look at me. Talk to me. Let me know you’re all right.”

          “I don’t know.” she said softly. “That thing in the basement…” She pressed on the marks as hard as she could and released. The skin did not change color. It stayed white. “That vampire…He bit me.” She looked up at him. “I’m scared, Ephrem. Am I going to turn into a vampire?”

          “No.” Elsie entered the room. “Only a bite to the neck can turn people.”

          “You.” Ephrem flared out his wings. “Get out of here!”

          Elsie ignored his aggressive posturing and approached the bed.

          He pushed her away. “I said, get out!”

          “No!” Memories of her parents’ arguments filled her mind. Hard words. Cruel words. Pointed, harsh anger for no reason. “Ephrem, please!”

          He turned to face Jane. “Please what? That monster bit you and it is all her fault.”

          “You’re the ones who went into the basement when I clearly told you not to.” said Elsie.

          He snarled. “Shut up! This is all your fault. My Jane was hurt because of you.”

          “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

          “You have a vampire in your basement! How is that not wrong?”

          Jane wanted to tell him to stop yelling at her aunt, but she couldn’t. Not when he had a very good point. “Why do you have a vampire in your basement?”

          “He needed my help. About a week ago, a mail delivery person dropped him off on my front door step.” Her expression turned sad. “He had been exposed to too much sunlight. He was weak. He needed my help. And so. I helped him.” She lowered her gaze. “I let him bite my wrist and drink my blood.”

          “You should have killed it.” said Jane.

          Jane’s ruthlessness failed to shock her aunt. “You’re right. I should have. So many times I should have killed him. My Ambrose. But I couldn’t do it. Even now, I can’t.”

          “Then, let Ephrem do it.”

          Elsie shook her head.

          “Aunt Elsie! That thing tried to kill me.”

          “No. He only wanted his nightly snack.”

          “Nightly?” Jane’s stomach turned all wrong. “Every night?”

          Elsie looked up at her. “What else could I do? Starve him?”

          “Stake him.” said Ephrem. “Do it now while he’s sleeping.”

          Elsie opened her mouth to speak and, most likely, to object.

          Ephrem lowered his wings and walked up to her. He rested his coarse hands on her shoulders. “Do it for Lady Jane. And for yourself. No more nightly snacks.”

          She looked away from him. “I’ll do it tonight.”

          ***to be continued***

          1. Beebles

            i just got round to reading this and … it is superb. and there is a slight pause between those three words. def want more of lady jane and ephram. clever stuff.

          2. cosi van tutte

            Yay! And here’s the conclusion. Sorry if it’s a bit on the long side.

            The fang marks are still white and numb. I’ve rubbed them over and over, but the color stays the same. White. True white. I’ve considered cutting them just to see if they would bleed, but I’m too scared to try. What if they don’t bleed?

            What if they don’t heal? What if my skin never returns to normal? Will I have to wear a bandage on my arm all the time like Aunt Elsie?

            Aunt Elsie…

            She’s downstairs right now and I’m up here in my room. I promised her that I’d stay up here no matter what. It was an easy promise to make. I don’t want any more white wounds on my arms. Or my neck.

            Ephrem went invisible and followed her. He doesn’t think that she’ll be able to kill that vampire. He thinks she’s too emotionally attached. I don’t understand how she could be that attached to something that wants to bite her neck. And don’t tell me he doesn’t. He’s a vampire. Vampires bite necks. It’s a simple truth. It’s practically science.

            And so here I am. Waiting.

            And waiting.

            And waiting.

            I will keep my promise. No matter what.

            Waiting.

            Waiting.

            I hope Ephrem’s all right.

            Waiting.

            Waiting.

            I hope Aunt Elsie’s okay.

            Waiting.

            Waiting for far too long.

            What if she’s hurt?

            What if Ephrem’s dead?

            How can I just sit up here and do nothing?

            But…

            I promised her.

            I should keep my promise.

            ***

            The house was dead quiet, almost like it was holding its breath.

            Jane opened the basement door and looked into the darkness.

            A memory flashed in her mind. His hands holding her arm. His teeth biting sharp and deep. She couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t escape.

            Jane stumbled back and considered fleeing to her room. But then she thought about Ephrem and Elsie. She turned on her flashlight and walked down the stairs.

            In the silent dark, her breathing sounded like it was miked to the extreme. Her footsteps were wooden clogs on a thin tin roof. She tried to imagine herself as a light-footed cat. It didn’t help.

            The flashlight beam wibbled and wobbled with her every step, creating leaping, lurching shadows. Jane struggled to keep her focus on breathing calm, breathing steady. She thought about Ephrem. She imagined him holding her hand. It helped.

            She reached the last step and shined her flashlight in a smooth left-to-right motion.

            A figure stepped out of the darkness and stood in the middle of the room.

            “Eeeep!” Jane turned and started to run upstairs.

            “He’s gone.”

            She stopped and pointed the flashlight at the lone figure. “Aunt Elsie?”

            Elsie dropped to her knees. “He’s gone.”

            Jane ran to her aunt. “What happened? Did he hurt you?”

            “He left me.” She hunched her shoulders and bowed her head. “I thought he’d understand why I had to kill him. I thought…”

            “Aunt Elsie. Did he hurt you?”

            A sob caught in her throat. “He tried. I almost killed him. I came so close. But the tables turned. He had me pinned. He tried to bite my neck.”

            Jane’s eyes widened. “Where’s Ephrem? Where is he? If that vampire did anything to him—”

            “He saved me. He tried to stab Ambrose with a wooden skewer. Ambrose ran upstairs. Ephrem followed.” She looked up at her niece. “Gargoyles can’t be turned into vampires, but they can be killed by them. If Ambrose has—”

            Jane didn’t wait for her aunt to finish her sentence. She ran upstairs to the front door and yanked it open. “Ephrem! Ephrem!” Her heart pounded hard enough to hurt.

            What if he was hurt?

            She couldn’t swallow.

            What if he was dead?

            She could barely breathe.

            “Ephrem!”

            She wanted to curl up somewhere and cry.

            He landed beside her. “Lady Jane?”

            She threw her arms around him and held him tight.

            “I’m sorry. I couldn’t find him. I tried to—”

            “Shut up. Just shut up.”

            He smiled and gently stroked her head.

            ***

            Ambrose sat under a gnarled apple tree and leaned his head against its lichened, gray bark. His mind raced in circles, playing and replaying the same moment.

            Her neck inches away from his fangs. He was so close. “I could have turned her.” He stared up at the shadowed branches. “And we’d be together always.” Would she consider that a curse or a blessing?

            But she tried to kill me. He smiled. “She’s always trying to kill me, but she never does. She always holds back.” His smile fell. But not this time. This time, she wanted me dead and she was willing to do it.

            Ambrose felt like he’d been stabbed by a whole forest of stakes. He closed his eyes and let the tears come falling down. “I’ve lost her.”

    2. gamingtheblues

      Hey Cosi. I will be honest with you. You are a very good writer, and craft interesting memorable characters. But At first, I had a bit of a time getting emotionally invested in the story. I think part of the difficulty was I had trouble placing just how old Jane is, so I could not get a solid grasp on how I should feel about her reactions, decisions and voice. Should I like her, hate her, be scared or happy for her? I needed more clues into who she was. I had trouble connecting with any of the characters aside from one…

      The vampire. That last paragraph and insight into the “monster in the basement” was brilliant. Brilliant writing, brilliant character depth and a brilliant idea in just a small block of sentences. It was such a powerful twist and so completely unexpected that it alone invested me in the rest of the story again. I can not go on too much about how happy it made me. More of this. Please!

      I would like to know more about the relationships between the characters, more backstory and more details on the interesting world you have created. All in all, well done.

      1. cosi van tutte

        Hi, gaming!

        Thank you so much for your feedback! I really appreciate it.

        Sorry about the undetermined age thing. It’s a horrible thing for a writer to say, but I’m not sure how old she is. (If there was a blushing emoji, I’d put it right here.) I just know that she’s young enough to worry about approval from authority figures, but old enough to be concerned about getting into a relationship. I do know that she is under sixteen.

        In the part where Jane is waiting in her room, I was going to include a line about Elsie being a vampire slayer and how that’s the reason why she’s considered taboo. But it just didn’t fit right with the tone of that whole part. So, I had to kill it off.

        Another thing I didn’t have a chance to really delve into: Jane’s parents are unable to see gargoyles and other mythological creatures. Only Jane and Elsie can.

        And, just so you know, everything you said about Ambrose made me happy. Thank you! He’s popped up in some of my other prompt stories and, while I don’t normally write vampire stories, I enjoy writing his stories. 😀

  19. ajhaughee83

    My eyes flew open for the third night in a row. The crashing in the basement couldn’t be ignored for another moment. Yes, Ruthers told me to stay out of there due to all the remodeling hazards, but this was ridiculous. What were they doing down there in the middle of the night?

    I grabbed my silk kimono style robe, the one Hank got me when we visited Tokyo. A little gift after I put up with his sake induced rage that left me with bruised ribs. The softness of the silk against my skin was an interesting contrast to the gritty memories of that trip.

    Making my way to the basement door, I knocked. “Mr. Ruthers?” I had to shout over the din.

    My only response was the sound of something large thudding to the floor.

    “Mr. Ruthers?” I tried again a little louder.

    I refused to be ignored. Turning the knob, I found that the door wouldn’t budge. So I braced my shoulder against it and with a large heave, the solid oak jostled loose from the frame. I inched the door open and was hit with the distinctive scent of Maker’s Mark and Newport menthol cigarettes. Bile filled my mouth as my body prepared for the onslaught that usually accompanied that particular combination.

    Steeling my nerves, I stepped down the narrow stairs.

    Making my way below I saw light blue walls with floral border trim, two white leather couches with embroidered throw pillows, and worn gray carpet. On the opposing wall a picture faced me. It had two cherubs locked in a warm embrace. My mother had given it to me for a wedding present. I had somehow been transported to our apartment on 54th street, the one I had just vacated.

    From behind the couch, a figure rose, sending an electric jolt through my body. Hank was wearing his brown Linden’s Pest Control coveralls, his face bright red and his focus solely on me. His hands were around his neck, his mouth wide open, and his adams apple straining against his throat. It was exactly how I remembered my last moment with him.

    Hank threw himself over the back of the couch, trying desperately to dislodge the piece of fatty prime rib stuck there. He straightened and gave a pleading look to me, begging me to help him.

    I knew this couldn’t be real. Hank’s body had been buried six weeks ago. And I was in Mr. Ruther’s house. This was his basement. Knowing this had to be the work of my imagination, I decided to use the opportunity to say to Hank what I couldn’t before.

    “You deserve this.”

    His face transitioned from bright red to a pale gray. He stumbled around the couch and reached for me, even though he was on the other side of the room.

    “You did this to yourself.”

    A chair crashed to the floor as he fell towards the dining table.

    “I would’ve helped you if you hadn’t spent years beating me, bullying me, telling me I was nothing.”

    He fell to the floor with a loud thud, his face now a purplish blue.

    “You suffocated me with your cruelty and now you get to feel what it’s like.”

    Hank’s limbs went limp and his eyes glazed over. I turned and left the basement, shutting the door with a new calmness, and glided up the stairs. As I laid back down in my bed, the banging noises returned. This time I smiled as I feel into a peaceful sleep.

        1. Beebles

          Thanks aj, the appreciation for comments is reciprocated – big time! As Regis (king of descriptive elements:)) says below you have the ability to say much with very little. I like what you do. For myself I got back into this mallarky? through streampunk and am trying to get a debut doorstop off the ground. It was a bit of journey in terms of learning to write, but it might make it to digital. Now, I just can’t stop – for good or bad. Yourself?

          1. ajhaughee83

            That would be awesome if your work went digital! I’d love to read it. I tend to write speculative fiction and what I am working on now is a fantasy/sci fi. This is a nice forum to test drive characters/settings and to get a break from the tediousness of the same story month after month.

    1. regisundertow

      I really wanted not to feel good about a person dying like that, but I couldn’t help it. Perhaps the biggest quality of this story is making readers feel like this with just a short description of the abuse and the man behind it. No need for more, I could tell the kind of person he was from his peripheral elements.

    2. charkhanolakha

      “hit with the distinctive scent of Maker’s Mark and Newport menthol cigarettes. Bile filled my mouth as my body prepared for the onslaught that usually accompanied that particular combination.”
      Absolutely loved these lines. This was a very satisfying story, ajhaughee.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Ii’s always a treat for me to read what I don’t have the ability to compose. It ia a great lesson in word preciseness. I need to keep reading it till I find the key to write this way, not aways but occassionally. I think I’m turning into a Hallmark wroter.

    3. gamingtheblues

      I found myself wondering if this were a dream sequence (Which I am leaning towards) or some sort of mystical local your MC has stumbled upon where you can commune with the dead. (which would be interesting in its own way.

      The writing flowed pretty nicely and I was kept in the story the whole time (and I love the thought of a silk kimono on silky skin and the gritty contrast of memories image that you painted.)

      An interesting story.

    4. Critique

      Some wonderful writing here ajhaughee88. A creepy tale that goes on and on. The only thing that jarred me out of the storyline was when she heaved and ‘the solid oak jostled from the frame” – I can’t picture a woman being strong enough to do that … but I could be wrong 😉

  20. madeindetroit

    It’s Time to Turn Off the Lights

    The house in Half Moon Bay sat on a secluded bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I stood on the deck, hypnotized by sparkling blue water and miles of sandy beach. A jet blue sky brimmed with dazzling sunshine and a cool ocean breeze caressed my skin.

    Five days ago, with a newly-minted PhD in computer science from MIT, I accepted a job with SwordFish, a Silicon Valley company on the cutting edge of cybersecurity software development. Tommy Stanton, the brash and brilliant CEO of SwordFish, came to Cambridge on a recruiting visit and offered me the position of principle cyber threat intelligence analyst. He dangled a six-figure salary, a BMW, and the ‘California lifestyle’ in front of me like a golden carrot. Finishing at the top of your class has its advantages.

    How could a girl refuse?

    After a month in a San Jose hotel, a flyer magically appeared on my desk: Room for Rent. Half Moon Bay. Ocean Front. All amenities included. Hot Tub. $500/month.

    This had to be a mistake. I dialed the number and couldn’t believe my luck; the room was still available. And, if by coincidence, two other women from SwordFish occupied the other two bedrooms. I was stunned by my good fortune.

    “Miss Hansen, you satisfied with rent, no?”

    “I’m sorry, Oh…yes, very satisfied.” The landlady, an elderly, gray-haired woman wrapped in a tan cardigan had an accent I recognized as Russian or Ukrainian. Maybe Romanian or Latvian. I thought it odd, considering the property and location but shook off the weird vibe and signed the rental agreement. The sun, the beach, and a hot tub will tend to skew all rational judgement.

    “One more thing, Miss Hansen,” the woman said, “don’t go in basement. Owner has valuables down there. Don’t go in basement.”

    “Oh, don’t worry…what is your name?”

    “Helen.”

    “Don’t worry, Helen. I tend to avoid dark and dank places, except when it comes to men.” I smiled.

    Helen sneered. Definitely Russian.

    At SwordFish, I acquired inside knowledge, both technical and tactical, to the most sophisticated cybersecurity coding and strategy on the planet. As chilling as it seemed, with an internet connection, a laptop computer, the right blueprints, and classified encryption software I co-authored, I could take down the very lifelines of the United States — its energy pipelines, its transportation, its water supply, its banks, and its electrical grid. I’m sugar and spice and all the crap, but I’m as dangerous as the entire Soviet nuclear arsenal.

    I spent summer evenings with my roommates, Stephanie and Leanne, drinking Margaritas and watching spectacular sunsets while soaking in the hot tub. We talked about men, work, and life. I spoke to my mother back home in Detroit every day. She provided a sympathetic ear when I was down and encouragement when I needed it.

    The noises in the basement started on a warm August night. Hushed voices and scrapping sounds reverberated from the air duct beneath my bed. Over the next few weeks, I woke to the same sounds, sometimes going late into night. Stephanie and Leanne heard nothing. “You’re working too hard,” they said.

    I called my mother. For two days, she didn’t answer the phone. I called a neighbor who checked on her every day.
    No answer.

    I would fly to Michigan tomorrow and check on her myself.

    That night, loud voices again resonated from the duct. The fragrance of jasmine filled the room; my mother’s favorite scent. I walked out of the bedroom and along a dark hallway towards the basement door. At the bottom of the stairs my legs buckled and nausea bubbled from my stomach.

    Banks of LED monitors flickered in the molten light. Graphs and algorithms and coded language danced across the screens. Wires hung from the rafters like silk in a spiderweb. Mainframe computers purred with internal chaos, their hard drives spinning efficiently. Stephanie and Leanne, headsets draped over their heads, sat stone-faced in front of two LAN workstations.

    Helen pointed to an empty chair. “Sit, Rachael. Time is drawing near. We need fingerprint.”

    “W-what the hell is going on here?”

    Helen grinned. “You know. It’s time to turn off lights.”

    “You…you’re insane. You can’t shut off the electrical grid. Millions of innocent people will die.”

    Helen’s brow furrowed and her gaze narrowed. “That’s the point. But first, you will transfer trillions in electronic funds. Sit and swipe your fingerprint on reader.” Helen pointed to an infrared scanner next to the workstation.

    “I will not be a part of…of the destruction of my country. I will not!” I screamed.

    Helen turned and muttered Russian to a man standing in the corner. He disappeared. When he returned, he pushed a wheelchair. A hooded figure sat slumped to one side. When the man removed the hood, my mother lay unconscious in the chair.

    “Oh my god” I gasped, “please, don’t hurt her.”

    “She’s sedated. Now sit down and enter your code in computer.”

    Tears stung my eyes and my heart pounded in my ears. I pressed my index finger to the scanner lens and watched screen in front of me spring to life. As I typed my password, For the first time in my life, I silently prayed there was somebody out there smarter than me.

    There had to be.

    There always is.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I liked your well paced story line. The idea of James Bond showing up for the rescue and saving the workd for good old England crossed my mind. Perhaps a young Roger Moore to keep the girls happy.

    1. gamingtheblues

      Jeeze, Beebs is right. Mother Russia seems to be on everyone’s mind this week =) Still, the hard as nails, cold and calculating, and darkly dangerous image that “Russia” still inspires today is not only amazing but still very relevant. (Mention hard drinking vodka and people immediately think Russian for instance)

      Your attention to detail is impressive Detroit, and you have a good grasp of how to construct complex but interesting sentences. I found a couple very basic grammar errors…(missing the word the for instance) But I only noticed on the second read through, and only mention because I believe we as writers are all trying to improve in any way possible.

      My only wish is that the MC had managed to turn the tables using her vast computer knowledge.

  21. Reaper

    Part 38, now to see if I can wrap up the opening third or so of this novel in the next few prompts.

    In the Beginning – Borders

    Tim found staying with a family strange, especially one with a teenaged daughter and a nearly teen son. He worried he was going to end up as de facto father figure, but it didn’t turn out that way. The children paid little attention to him, except when the daughter was bossing him around. The new son, as they insisted on calling him, simply stared at Tim most of the time.

    Nicole, the woman he rented from, made one thing clear. He was not to enter the basement under any circumstances. A simple enough rule, even if it did remind Tim of too many fairy tales. He had just moved to the city though, and very few were willing to take a chance on a long haired, starving musician. It would all work out.

    Nicole seemed to be an absentee parent though. A week after Tim moved in, she vanished. That was when the chanting started. It came from the basement and continued into all hours of the night. It did not keep Tim from sleeping, as he mostly did that during the day. It did make it hard to practice though.

    Though Tim had never seen anyone other than the three family members there was a chorus full of female voices chanting in the dark down below. At first he thought it was just the daughter’s friends, but she never really seemed to have any over. He held his curiosity in check for a few days.

    Then he started wandering the downstairs while the chanting increased. After a week he was pacing in front of the door for most of the night. After several weeks he could not take it anymore. He opened the door and descended. The sight before him made him wish he was born without curiosity.

    Nicole, nude and bound to a stone dais, a gag keeping her screams held back; that greeted his eyes. A gaggle of younger women in varying states of leather clad surrounded the altar and chanted in what sounded like Latin. All of that was strange enough, but the daughter in a short silk robe, holding one of those wavy daggers, standing over her mother, was beyond bizarre. The son sitting in a corner, staring at where Tim stood, was the cherry on top of the insanity Sundae.

    “The time has come for the torch to pass, mother.”

    The daughter raised the dagger as she spoke. Nicole squirmed and screamed against her gag. Imploring eyes looking to the stranger in their midst. Her faith failing her, in her last moments, she cast about for rescue. Tim was frozen where he stood though.

    The dagger plunged. A looser, but still near perfect, chest parted before the steel. Warm blood sprayed and flowed down over stone. The younger women showered in it, scooped it up in cupped hands to wash and anoint their flesh with it. The boy spoke some of the first words he had to Tim, with a sick smile on his face that Tim felt obliged to obey.

    “I need a first follower and recruiter. Mom broke the one that belonged to my brother.”

    1. regisundertow

      The descend to madness continues and the threads are coming close together.

      Just one point, I feel that Latin is overdone as the to-go mystical language. How about something completely primal and unrecognizable?

        1. regisundertow

          That’s interesting and a very valid point. Have you considered Greek, though, considering the Gospel was originally written in it? Or Aramaic even, alluding to the Dead Sea scrolls? Latin as the church language is a recent thing, relatively speaking, and it only applies to the Catholic Church post-schism anyway. It’s your story of course, this is just something to consider.

    2. ajhaughee83

      Ok I am trying to put some of the pieces together that I have read from before – I know Nicole is someone’s love/wife and is very key to that character’s motivation…but is she Tim’s love?

    3. gamingtheblues

      Hey Reaper!

      As I mentioned before it has been a real pleasure watching you grow as a writer over the years. Your confidence shows with your precise sentences and in the style that you typically write in.

      Now, I did find the tone to be a little inconsistent with what I would expect. This “may” be purposeful in suggesting the inherent hidden callousness of your MC, but as I am not sure of that, I will make the suggestion anyway. (And also please note…I am unfamiliar with these characters, perhaps I need to go back and start from the beginning)

      I did not get the dread that I would feel stumbling upon that scene (The words “bizarre and “looser but still near perfect chest” conjured feelings and images that felt outside of what I expected to feel in this scene)

      But you weave an interesting web, and your characters feel deep, with vested emotional attachments and histories; not cookie cutters to throw away.

      I look forward to learning more about this world you are creating.

  22. Amaria

    Trying to get back into these prompts:

    It had been three straight nights Sylvia heard those strange noises coming from the basement. The growling and scratching noises have been keeping her up at night. Despite her best efforts, Sylvia could not get enough sleep.

    The landlady, Mrs. Felton, had told Sylvia that the basement was off limits, but never gave a specific reason. Sylvia saw Mrs. Felton’s son, Jasper, enter the basement in the early evening and would not reappear until morning. Sylvia said nothing and minded her own business. But by the third night, she was at the end of her rope.

    Sylvia exited her bedroom and walked down the dark hallway towards the basement floor. When Sylvia reached the door, she detected a strange yet familiar odor – blood. She opened the door, careful to not make a sound, and saw a faint light at the bottom of the stairs. As she walked downstairs, the growling noises got louder and the smell of blood stronger. When she reached the landing she turned and was surprised at what she saw.

    On the far wall stood a large steel cage, where a large wolf was thrashing about and playing what appeared to be an animal bone. Sylvia slowly approached the cage. When she got closer, the wolf turned and growled. Sylvia looked into the wolf’s green eyes and recognized them. It was Jasper.

    Sylvia was not afraid. She came from family of pure bred werewolves. Although Sylvia had noticed Jasper’s strange scent, she had pushed it into the back of her mind. She always had a strong sense of smell, a gift from her mother. Her father taught her how to control the change when the moon was full. She became so good at it, that she sometimes lost track of the moon cycles. It was a technique that allowed her to survive in the human world. Obviously, Jasper had no such training. He just stared at her, as if he was trying to decide whether to attack her or play with her.

    Sylvia whispered to Jasper, “I know what you are going through. But it doesn’t have to be this way. I can teach you how to control it. You don’t have to live in cages.”

    Jasper stopped growling and approached the cage door. Sylvia reached her hand into the cage and stroke the wolf’s brownish fur. The wolf whimpered. “It’s okay. I will show you how to live in this world. And I know whatever your mother has been feeding you is not enough for a newborn wolf.” Sylvia then grasped the cage door and yanked it open with all her strength. Jasper jumped back as he watched her show the door to the side and stepped into the cage.

    Sylvia laughed and kneeled down towards Jasper. “Come on. Let’s go for a run.”

    1. ajhaughee83

      Glad you’re back! I enjoyed this because I am a big fantasy fan and I liked the idea of Sylvia helping to train Jasper. I would like to know more about the world you created here.

    2. gamingtheblues

      I was and was not expecting her to be a werewolf too. Very good foreshadow with the detecting of the smell of blood. Enough to pique the interest, not enough to tip your hand quite yet.

      Do your werewolves become bipedal or just larger more intelligent versions of real wolves?

      There are some minor errors with word or tense usage (show instead of shove for instance, stepped instead of step) so remember to proof read your piece, especially useful is if you can do it out loud, it will help cut down on those types of errors.

      You have crafted an interesting start to a world, with a MC that I actually like. Sylvia seems like a nice MC to work with. I would like to read more of your work on here so I can get a better feel on your style and tone.

      Look forward to more!

  23. charkhanolakha

    “But why not?”

    “What are you hiding in the basement, Khan sahab, that I can’t go see?” I ask with a nod, and a wink.

    Patahnay khan looks back at me; his gaze serious as ever, eyes troubled.

    “Sometimes, sahab jee, it is better to take things as they are. To not ask questions, or delve too deep.”

    “Oh, come on, Pathanay Khan. Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”

    “I mean, no police case, right?” I grin a little nervously, waiting for reassurement.

    “Don’t get me wrong, sahab jee. I am an honest man. But I see things, I sense them.”

    “You live your life on the surface, sahab jee, that is what is good for you.” Pathanay Khan walks away, leaving me with this enigmatic piece of advice.

    The basement faded from my mind after that; I didn’t have the keys, after all. Whatever it was, the less I knew, the better, I figured.

    I was in Karachi after more than twenty years of absence. My memories of this city of lights were mostly vague; dusty. A jumble of impressions, textures and sounds, much like the city itself.

    I remembered squishy mango pulp slipping from my fingers onto my grandmother’s white rupatta.

    I remembered the satisfying crack of a bat colliding with a ball. I remember the red cricket ball sailing through the air and striking the neighbor’s window. I remember grabbing the wickets as we ran away before Azmi sahab came to investigate the source of the disturbance.

    I remember my grandmother packing lunch for me in a blue box with the ninja turtles on it.

    Some things however I remembered very vividly; like the taste of Aliya’s bubblegum flavored chapstick. The feel of her velvety lips against my skin; the trembling of her fingers as they traced my lips.

    I remembered my grandmother waving me off at the airport, with the air of one who is glad to see the back of me.

    I was leaving Karachi for greener pastures; to build a life outside of this city of unpredictable chaos. I spoke to my grandmother occasionally, but with the passage of years our conversations dwindled.

    When Ashraf mamoon called to tell me she had passed away, I could not bring myself to cry.

    Eventually, I had graduated with a useless degree and proceeded to travel as much as I could, as fast as I could. I had worked as a bartender in Romania, I had waited tables in Germany. A sense of restlessness flung me from country to country; any peace I found was temporary.

    Now at forty, my bones were getting tired, and yearning for Karachi summers again. For the sound of Urdu to fall on my ears; for street vendors who would prepare my bun kebab exactly as I liked it as soon as they saw me walking down the street.

    I had bought a one-way ticket to Pakistan; found a job teaching English at a private school. Real estate in Karachi is expensive; and all I could afford was this one bedroom in a dilapidated building; with walls stained grey from the barbeque joint underneath.

    Pathanay Khan was the care taker of this building.

    One lazy Sunday though, the power was out. I was sweating in my banyan and shalwar on the couch, the UPS batteries had long since run out. There was no wi fi, no T.V. I was bored; the familiar restlessness was beginning to creep over me. I was already in the city I called home; however. I had run out of places to run to.

    On a whim, I decided to explore the basement. Why not. It would kill time, and occupy my wandering mind.

    The door had a rusty old fashioned lock; one good shove and it swung open.

    Cool air came gushing out; it smelt stale; like mildew. How long as it been since anyone has been down here? I wondered.

    Ignoring the smell, I stepped onto the staircase leading down. The light from the doorway only illuminated a few steps ahead. I placed a tentative foot on the next crumbling step; the door swung shut. I could no longer hear the din and clatter from the restaurant above; there was silence.

    As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, I realized the silence was no longer absolute. I had begun to hear a soft crooning; a lullaby. It sounded familiar; yet strange. I heard the gurgle of a baby, a mother’s besotted laughter.

    I could not understand why anyone would bring a child to this dank, dark basement any more than I could explain the strange yearning I felt for the woman’s arms: to be held by her.

    I placed my hands on the walls, stumbled forwards in the dark, moving towards her.

    The sound of a crashing bottle; followed by a scream stopped me.

    I was waiting for the next sound. Something to let me know the mother and child were okay. There was nothing however.

    I started to move forward now, quicker. I hoped it wasn’t the woman who had screamed, even as I shook with a deep sense of foreboding.

    I could hear something else now. The sound of air being whisked and beaten by the blades of a fan.

    1. charkhanolakha

      The sound conjured up something; a memory; the metallic taste of nausea. I bit my tongue and closed my eyes; but could see an image now; in my mind’s eye; as clear as yesterday.

      It was a body, spinning, flowy white kameez whirling around like a dervish’s tennure. Hanging from a fan.

      I choked back the vomit and stepped forward. Forward was the only way to go now. A rush of sounds followed this image; one chasing the other out of my head.

      The wailing sirens of an ambulance.

      My grandmother’s voice. “Such a waste. Always, such a waste. What will become of the boy?”
      The memory had a smell now. The smell of incense burning at the funeral.

      The gentle hum of voices reading the Quran at the funeral services. I saw the flash of another image now. A drawing room full of ladies, all with faces adjusted for grief. Wearing the simplest clothes they possessed; no display of ostentation at a funeral. I saw this from behind my grandmother’s knee.

      I had reached the bottom of the stairs now. The memories were coming rushing back; faster than I could contain them. Abu pushing ami into the wall, her form sliding down to crumple at his feet on the ground. The sound of a heavy foot stamping on delicate ribs: the crack and the snap of ribs breaking.
      I brought my hands up to my ears to keep the sound out.

      My mind’s eye was painting another scene for me now, Abu grabbing his brief case; leaving for the office.

      Ammi raising a finger to her slips to silence me. Stuffing clothes into the suitcase at random: 3 shalwars, one kammeez. A t shirt. I bring her my favorite stuffed toy: a large grey cat with the ear chewed off. She gives a dry sob and tosses it into the suitcase.

      A yellow cab. The seats smell like leather, my sweaty legs stick to them. Ami gives the driver my uncle’s address. The driver’s teeth are stained red with beetle nut juice. She keeps looking over her shoulder all the way to mamun’s house.

      Ashraf mamoon shakes his head, no. “You can’t stay here, Sajida. Azfar’s house is your home now. It is where you belong.”

      I see my mom beg. “Please, bhaiyaa…” she mumbles, her words weak, barely escaping her mouth. Even she does not believe he will give her shelter.

      “Come, Sajida, I will drop you back.”

      “It is best that Azfar doesn’t know you left. I’ll take you back before he comes home.”

      “He will kill us bhaiya, he said so. I can’t go back, don’t make me go back. Ami’s voice works upto a shriek.

      “He won’t. I’ll come and speak to him tonight. I promise” Mamun holds the skin over his vocal cords and tilts his head to show he means it; the gesture for a promise.

      Back home, I watch my Ami walk from room to room. There is a blank, uncomprehending stare on her face. She wrings her hands, twists her hair. Shakes her head. She is talking to herself, I can’t make the words out. Her voice is dry and raspy now, not like the voice singing the lullaby.

      She grabs me by the shoulders; steers me to my room, locks me in. I pound on the door; yell at her to let me out till I’m hoarse. Finally I collapse in an exhausted heap next to the door, hungry and thirsty. I fall asleep.

      The door is flung open; I am pushed across the floor. I look up; bleary eyed. What is happening?

      Abu grabs me by the scuff of my shirt, drags me to their bedroom. There is a body; whirling from the roof. A dervish, I think, confusedly,

      “See what you have done to your Ami, Kameenay” he spits in my face. I remember the door bell ringing, and mamun’s voice, saying he was here as I fell to the floor in a dead faint.

      I can see Ami’s face now: an old picture; sepia toned. It was the trend in those days. Large almond eyes full of love gaze into the camera. There is an extra gentleness about her mouth, the glow of youth, and exuberance in her eyes. Her eyes gaze into the camera with hope; and love. The picture was taken by Abu, shortly after they were married.

      My mother; whose memories I had buried long and deep.

      Patahnay Khan was right, some things are better left buried, I think as I collapse on the stairs, sobbing.

      1. charkhanolakha

        I apologize for the length guys. I’m going to make a serious effort to keep it shorter from next time on.
        Also, mamoon is maternal uncle.
        And I just realized that it’s technically impossible to hang yourself from an fan that’s on. Which is a weird thing to be thinking about at 4 am. So I’m going to stop rambling and go to bed. Night, guys!

        1. Beebles

          How strange, Charkha. Not only is this a heartbreaking and richly woven tale that I enjoyed immensely, but it is not dissimilar in approach to what i originally had in mind, although the phrase i was focussed on was ‘some doors are best left shut’ or words to that effect. The focus was to be the story leading up to the encounter with the basement rather than the contents of the basement itself and the memories it stirs. I do not doubt that mine would have been a poor shadow. That’s the second coincidence on this site today!

          1. charkhanolakha

            Great minds, Beebles ;).
            That is high praise indeed, from some one whose writing I respect a lot. I very honestly don’t know what to say (and I’m trying to be a writer?).
            What was the first coinkydink?

      2. regisundertow

        Nothing to apologize for, this was immensely enjoyable. Ever since I read Arundati Roy, I’ve been hooked on stories set in that part of the world. But it’s not just the way you decorate the story that’s attractive. Its bare bones are archetypal in a fairy tale kind of way. A bittersweet fairy tale for grown ups indeed.

        1. charkhanolakha

          Many thanks Regis, that means a lot!
          Also, I’m a little bit of an Arundati Roy fangirl. Its slightly ironic since I live here, but I never truly appreciated south asian english fiction until I read her. Have you read Mohsin Hamid?

          1. regisundertow

            She’s extremely observant but very elegiac, which is her main strength. She can take the most mundane or depressing element of society and turn it into a meditation on being human. Definitely made a fanboy out of me also.

            Haven’t read Hamid yet, but the Reluctant Fundamentalist has been on my to-read list for a few months now (so many books, such little time). I find South Asian fiction translating easily to Western sensibilities, mostly because the archetypes are so relatable.

      3. gamingtheblues

        This was a memorizing tale indeed. You have an elegant style of writing that fits the different culture that your story brings. Not only does it shine with its own light and purpose, but in a way, it highlights the very real humanity that all cultures, East, West and in-between share with each other. We all can relate to the feelings of your characters, and their experiences in the way you write them, even if I (we) do not initially understand every term or word.

        The one thing I noticed was that in the beginning of the story, two of the lines of dialogue were structured awkwardly. You had your MC speak twice in a row, but separated the lines by a space which caused me some confusion.

        Usually the space between dialogues is used to denote that a different person is speaking without have to always write “he said, she said.” Of course you are perfectly at liberty to mess with conventional structure (I do all the time) but it did break me from the story for a minute.

        Otherwise, this was a reflective, and heart wrenching story. Nicely done.

  24. changeishard

    This is the first time I have posted anything for other writers to read and critique. When I completed the story I realized it was almost double the allotted length and had to do some pretty harsh edits. That alone was a good lesson.

    Leila walked up the stairs of the decrepit old bi-level. Leila and knocked. Her back was straightened almost painfully and she did her best to seem tall. At four foot ten inches it was a mighty task. A moment later the door was opened to show a boy in pajamas and slippers.
    “Hi Vince, is your Mother home?” she asked.
    “Yeth” he replied and turned away from the door. She decided this was the equivalent of inviting her in and followed shutting the door behind her. They entered the kitchen and Vince’s mother Candace was seated at the breakfast nook. Candace smiled brightly at Leila and gestured for her to take a seat on the bench opposite her. Leila smiled nervously and sat.
    “Leila, I am so glad you decided to take me up on my offer.” Candace said.
    “Thank you for hiring me as Vince’s live in baby sitter.” Leila replied as she shot an affectionate glance at the young boy. Candace continued in a slightly more rushed yet professional tone “The rules are simple. You need to be here for him when I am not. You get paid on the first of the month and never go in the basement.”. Leila nodded her agreement without pause even as the last stipulation was given. She was grateful for the employment as well as the room and board.

    On the third night there she awoke in the early hours of the morning. There was a sound coming from the basement. It was a far off dull sound like something hitting the wall repeatedly. The thumps came rapidly for a few seconds then spaced apart and finally ceasing all together. This occurred several times but there didn’t appear to be a pattern.

    The next day around three o’clock in the morning the sound started. Leila slipped on her shoes and descended the stairs. The door was unlocked. Leila slowly opened the door and entered. She was outside. The smell of freshly popped popcorn permeated the air. Looking down she realized she was standing on grass. There was a popcorn vendor to her left starting a new batch of the salty treat. As the popping sound began she knew it was the sound she was hearing in her room. Leila turned to go back through the basement door. Where the door had once stood there was only a dense grove of trees. Her heart began to pound in her ears as she spun wildly looking for a way out.

    A man approached her. “Welcome to the Carnival! I am the Ringmaster, and you must be the new dwarf.” he said in a loud voice. Leila tried to stammer a negation but was unable to talk. He took her by the arm and lead her towards a trailer. “You’re taller than I expected.” he mused with a slight frown. “Oh well, you will have to do.” he finished as he dragged her into the trailer.

    1. charkhanolakha

      Hey changeishard! Welcome aboard!
      I really enjoyed your take on this: quirky and original! I especially liked the popcorn detail.
      And I can definitely relate to trying to seem taller than I am. I feel like I should stay away from this building.

    2. ajhaughee83

      Hello! Kudos for being brave and posting – it’s always scary the first time. Everyone on here is really nice, so no worries! I could smell the popcorn when you mentioned that detail – made the setting become alive. And I thought the “new dwarf” was funny. Nice job!

    3. regisundertow

      Oh, that’s interesting. It reminds me of all the great 80’s fairy tales, like the Labyrinth.

      You’ll find this forum a very pleasant place to be in, with a lot of very helpful people. Putting yourself out there is intimidating, but you’re in good company.

    4. gamingtheblues

      Alright! Welcome one welcome all Change! Nice to have you on the writing board. As this is your first time having other writers read and edit your work, I will give you the deluxe treatment =) If you have noticed my other comments, I try and give advice when I think it is warranted and looked for. Please note that my advice and suggestions are just that. Please tell me to go pound sand or any other retort if you find them unwelcome 😉

      You have a nice flow and cadence with your writing. Your words are not jarring and the sentence structure is pleasant to read. That being said, there are a number of editing issues that can be cleared up pretty easily. The best way to find them yourself, as I have mentioned to others before is by reading your stories out loud to yourself. It might feel a little silly at first (or not) but it is invaluable for getting the dialogue and word placement and usage down pat.

      Some of things I noticed: you have the name Leila in the wrong spot at the end of your first sentence.

      In introducing Candace, it breaks the flow to have her name said twice so quickly.
      I would personally remove the second and one and instead put “She smiled brightly…”

      You should have commas between the different occurrences of noise from the basement, “for a few seconds, then spaced apart, and finally ceasing…”

      Finally, the word “again” should be added to the end of the line “the next day around three….”

      But those are what I call consider nitpicking, and would typically not point out each, and just mention one or two and suggest you find the rest on your own…… but for your first time ;p

      Now that the hard part is over…. The story itself is excellent. I am intrigued as to what the little boy and his mother have to do with the other world, their part in it. Who this ringmaster is..what kind of place is this. You also choose good words for what you are trying to convey. I have a lot of expectation for this carnival and only wonder if it will be a carnival of wonders…or horrors.

      Welcome to boards, and I look forward to reading your next entry.

  25. Beebles

    Honestly, I had something really clever and allegorical planned and then I thought, sod it, thats too hard. I just love writing this stuff.
    ————

    The Cardinal’s eyes were blank, his mouth open, as if he had expected the response to fall like manna from his lips, but God had deserted him. I knew instantly that I had won the debate.

    The anticipated applause did not materialise. I looked up; around the floating faces inhabiting the dark tiers of seats which rose beyond the arc lights surrounding the dais. The silence was intense. My words were a painful truth, but my reasoning was beyond question and had baffled the combined theological clerisy that had been arrayed against me.

    Then a single pair of hands beat against the stillness with their slow, deliberate percussion and to the rear of the auditorium a figure stood and began to make its way down the steep steps. Immediately, the audience rose as one and dispersed; parting before my advocate, like particles of similar charge. By the time he arrived before me, we were alone.

    He smoothed his black frock coat and looked sheepishly up at me from under his top hat.

    ‘Not the response you were hoping for, William?’ The voice was rich and with the perfect balance of all Italians.

    ‘Well … no. Did I say something wrong?’ I stammered.

    The Doctor smiled gently. He looked down at his shoes, scuffing at an invisible mark on the polished wood floor. ‘Well you have just disproved the existence of God, my friend.’

    ‘It is what you invited me here to do, was it not?’

    He nodded, spreading his arms. ‘Indeed. After I saw your success in Paris I knew I had to bring you here. Tough crowd, eh? But come, my housekeeper will have prepared us dinner. We must make haste.’

    We retired to the Doctor’s elegant Florentine mansion where I had stayed the night before. It was a most well-appointed residence and the Doctor was a perfect host, though he was insistent I did not enter the basement. When I asked why, he laughed, ‘Nothing sinister, my friend. As a fellow scientist I am sure you can appreciate a gentleman’s confidentiality. I am conducting some delicate research which must not be disturbed.’

    After a sumptuous repast he insisted in plying me with the finest Grappa I had tasted.

    ‘The London Academy is excelling itself. I remember we had Dilwyn Evans here not five months ago – speaking on a similar topic to yours. You will soon have shaken every religion in the world to the core.’
    I shook my head remembering the tragic news. ‘Yes. Poor Dilwyn. He was a great friend of mine.’
    ‘Was?’ The Doctor leant forward, glass in hand.

    ‘Had you not heard?’ I could not hide my surprise. ‘He never returned from Italy.’

    The Doctor was visibly shaken and after a short while he took himself to bed, pausing only to reiterate his warnings concerning the basement.

    I remained in the studded leather chair and brooded on the evening’s events. I could not shake the thought that something awful may have happened to Dilwyn in this very city. The reaction of the Florentines to my arguments suggested that I myself may not be safe beyond these walls of enlightenment.

    I finished the Grappa and rose to retire, but in the corridor I stopped. Whether it was the fortifying effects of the spirit or my scientific curiosity, I found myself approaching the door to the basement.
    Steep steps curved into obscurity and as I followed them, ashlar gave way to rough-hewn stone and then to age eroded rock, slick with damp and gritted with salts. A vague light emanated from the base, illuminating my descent. The air sang a song of millenia in my lungs.

    When the steps ceased I was in a chamber. A natural stone arch was before me. Its structure was encased in elaborate machinery and its centre filled with some kind of static that obscured the view beyond. It caused my flesh to tingle and I was lured inexorably toward it, until before I knew what was occurring, I had penetrated its core.

    Immediately I was filled with the noise of the universe. The cavern walls were stripped away and I stood naked before a mighty being of indescribable power and majesty. Its gaze penetrated my flesh, my bone, my thoughts. I felt it within me, within everything. It was ripping my very soul from me.

    I forced my way backwards and fell onto my knees, exultant to find myself in the peace of the cavern once more. The Doctor stood before me, his expression triumphant.

    ‘Now you know, William, who is watching your pathetic attempts to destroy our faith! You may have perfected logic, but I have revealed God!’

    I write these words now in my head, for the warders will permit me no pen or paper. I do not imagine that I shall leave this place, forever tormented by the thought that the entity is watching all I do, and by the demented screams of poor Dilwyn in the cell next door.

    1. ajhaughee83

      I always love reading your posts. Your descriptive elements are excellent and I am pretty sure I have said before your command of language is amazing. Specifically, the “single pair of hands beating against the stillness” and “air sang a song of millennia.” I also enjoyed the setting and structure of the characters. What else do you write?

    2. regisundertow

      Why do I feel like this is what you’d get had Lovecraft or Ligotti not been atheists?
      Echoing JosephFazzone here. You didn’t want to go all allegorical, well, this raises some very interesting cosmic horror questions. Concerning the language, both the style (I wouldn’t call it Victorian, but close?) and the highlights (song of millenia) are a pleasure to read.

    3. gamingtheblues

      Well well Beebs… This was a bit of a roller coaster. At first I had images of Doctor Who…but your Doctor is quite sinister as Joseph mentioned. Almost every line he speaks on a second read through just drips with hidden sarcasm.

      You have an excellent grasp of tone, pacing and style. Your dialogue was well written and believable. And the plot, oy…what a beautifully horrific twist. We have all heard that God used to be a hard vengeful one before the New testament. There is a touch of madness here, as the other commentators have hinted at.

      One thing that pulled me from the story is the thought on the Doctor’s Reaction to hearing Dilwyn had not yet returned. Even if his reaction was effected, it did not come off as such to me even in retrospect, knowing that he knew Dilwyn was actually down below. Its honestly the first thing I thought of when Dilwyn’s fate was revealed.

      But aside from that small thing, this was a masterfully dark, and quickly spiraling tale and I wait with bated breath for more madness.

      1. Beebles

        Ah GTB you are a being of incredible power and majesty who sees into our very souls. First the dead girlfriend and now the Doctor. Yes, in short, you are correct. It would have made more sense to add a certain inscrutability into the Doctor’s response which in turn would have infused a disquiet in the MC and so led him to the basement, expecting, as you say, to find poor Dilwyn. Your comments are most enthusiastically and gratefully received. Your servant, Beebles.

  26. ShamelessHack

    “I can’t go look in the basement?”
    Peter shook his head. “Nope.”
    “But there’ve been all these sounds. Interesting sounds. Kind of compelling, you know?”
    “I said no. Absolutely no.”

    Ahh, what does Peter know, anyway? He’s just an old fuddy-duddy, though I admit, he is a good landlord.
    Whoa, there are those sounds again from down there! Is that laughter? Sounds like women—hot women!
    Oh, to heck with Peter, he’ll never find out if I sneak down there for a few minutes.
    I have to check this out…

    Hey, this place rocks! Who’s this big guy?
    “Well, well, we were waiting for you down here!”
    “You were?” Whoa this place is hot, man!
    “Now you have to stay. You know that right?”
    “What do you mean?” Hmm, what a party place! This place is really hot.
    “You should have listened to Peter, you know.”
    “I can’t go back up there?”
    “Uh-uh.”
    Who is this guy? “Hey, who are you anyway?”
    “They call me Bub…”
    “Bub?”
    Extremely hot down here.
    “Yep. Short for Beelzebub.”
    Super hot.
    “Make yourself at home.”

    1. ajhaughee83

      always entertaining, hack! next prompt I am writing about a bunch of gorgeous dudes to start evening up the score 😉 your “shameless” poem is still my fave – going to go back and reread it now!

  27. Kerry Charlton

    THE LEGEND OF MARY CATHERINE COBB

    In‘1967, with a degree in Historical Architecture from Rice University and a year and a half work on his masters, John Randolph III landed a dream job in White Castle, Louisiana. He traveled to Nottoway Plantation, the largest Greek revival home in America. It was built in 1859 with no expense spared.. In its prime, the plantation operated sixty sections of land along the Mississippi as a sugar plantation.

    John’s assignment was to study design and also evaluate a massive undertaking to restore this white beauty into it’s middle 19th century original condition. The state of Louisiana had the plantation under contract to turn it into a museum of history of the civil war era.

    The house at the time of John’s arrival, hosted limited overnight house guests. John joined them nightly in the main dining room after work and entertained the visitors with the history of the 53,000 square foot house.. He even told of the owner’s warning not to visit the basement. Why he was treated this way, didn’t make sense. He was hired for this job and wasn’t going to let the owner side-step him. Foundation work was essential to any restoration.

    Some of the guests, especially those who stayed in the bridal suite overnight, complained of eerie noises coming from the basement.

    “Just what were the sounds like? John asked.

    “It sounds like a woman in great stress, weeping and moaning,”

    John had noticed the girl in her early twenties as soon as she entered the room. Another older gentleman spoke,

    “She’s right, now that I think of it,” he said, “a young woman.”

    “Has anyone else heard these sounds?” John said.

    A hush of embarrassment entered the room.

    “Well, enough about ghosts for one evening,” John stated.

    The room emptied except for the young lady who had spoken earlier,

    “My name is Rhonda. Have you explored the basement yet?”

    “No, would you like to go with me? I plan to start tomorrow afternoon.”

    “Oh yes, I love ghost stories and we’re staying here a week. My father is an
    attorney and in pre-trail at the courthouse.”

    Next day as John and Rhonda made their way down two flights of rickety stairs, lit by only one single light bulb, both became hesitant,

    “Do you think a ghost can scare anyone to death?”

    “I hardly think so,” John answered, “but it is sure is giving me the creeps.”

    “Me too, have you noticed the cold draft of air, that is a sign of ghosts.”

    “Basement hold temperature, it’s not so unusual.”

    The stairs ended on a limestone floor, covered in mold and quite slippery,. .

    “Watch your step Rhonda, hold on to me.”

    “Gladly, I’m scared shitless down here.”

    “Do you want to go back?”

    “No I’ll be all right, don’t let go of me though.”

    At that time, John’s main flashlight went out. Standing in the dark, he lit a cigarette lighter. Ronda has loosed her grip. In the flickering light, she had vanished before his eyes.

    “Ronda, where are you, can you hear me?”

    A silence as still as death answered him.

    TO BE CONTINUED

    1. ajhaughee83

      Another post with a great setting! I was recently in Charleston at a plantation and it was absolutely gorgeous. Do you travel a lot? Because from your writing it seems like you do.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you ajhaughee83, we have stayed at Nottoway three different times. The second time, the next morning the plantation was covered in fog so dense, from our balcony on the second floor, we could not see the grounds. The trees were floating in it and I could here the Canadian geese calling from the pond close by but couldn’t see anything. I have some marvelous photos of the home taken in that dense fog.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        THANK YOU, THERE ARE MANY HIDDEN SECRETS AT NOTTOWAY. THE HOUSE AND GROUDS ARE GLORIOUS, MYSTERIOUS, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT BUT BRING MONEY, LOTS OF IT. EXPLORE BOTH SIDES OF THE RIVER ROAD AND DON’T FORGET OAK ALLEY WITH IT’S 300 YEAR OLD OAKS ALL PLAMTED ON BOTH SIDES OF A 400 FOOT ENTRANCE, AN UNBELIEVABLE SIGHT YOU WILL NEVER FORGET.

          1. Kerry Charlton

            Hello Critique, Nottoway is certainly real but John Randolph is a fictional character. The plantation is an awesome place.

  28. JAMB

    It was an unusually calm night – too calm – too silent, like something awful was about to happen. I pulled the wrinkled paper from my pocket as I looked up at the numbers 339 on the old crumbling building. The words “339, ask for the host” were written on the note. I have reached my destination. As I approached to knock on the door, it opened.

    “Come in, hurry before anyone sees you. Quiet.” An elderly man carrying a lantern hissed. He hurriedly closed the door behind me.

    “Are you the host?” I awkwardly inquired.

    “Yes. You’ll have to be quicker than that. You’ll have to be cautious and pay attention or you’ll get us all killed. Now follow me.” He ordered in a hushed, angry voice.

    I stumbled through the dark interior, lit only by the lantern held by the host. He led me to an empty closet and pointed to some old clothes and newspapers spread on the floor.

    “You can rest here. Be quiet and whatever you do, don’t go down to the basement. Don’t open the basement door – off limits. You’ll find a bucket in the hall if you need to relieve yourself. Quiet I say – be quiet.”

    The door closed and exhausted, I curled into a ball on the putrid smelling pile of debris which was now my bed. The stench burned my nose and I felt the need to cough, but his words “quiet I say, be quiet” kept ringing in my head. When I could bear it no more, I slowly, and of course quietly, opened the door for air. I had to accept the fact that the whole place smelled like piss, but it was an improvement over the closet – my lungs thanked me.

    “I’ll get used to this.” I kept repeating to myself, silently, of course. I should be thankful after all.
    I stood in the darkness and I could see a faint light shining from under a door at the end of the hallway. This must be the off-limits basement. I walked toward the door, and could hear the muffled voices of women and children, of soft, barely audible cries, and then, the voice of the host.
    The door opened, hitting me in the face and forcing me to fall backward onto the floor.

    “I thought I told you to stay away from the basement!” He blew in a whispered yell, with the hot stench of his breath making the closet seem like a perfumery. He pulled me to my feet and then I felt a shove as he pushed me to the basement steps.

    “Go down there. And be quiet I say, quiet, quickly now.”

    I walked down the steps, followed by the host, and then to my horror, I saw with the light from the host’s lantern, the faces of what appeared to be close to one hundred women and children crammed into the damp basement. Their eyes filled with fear, sorrow, grief…….gratitude.

    A woman placed a small piece of bread in my hand and whispered, “Welcome. This is our home until war is over. “

  29. jhowe

    Theo Pompey was a torn man. His landlord had been very adamant about the basement even though the thick oak door with three deadbolt locks offered little chance of entry. That was before the earthquake that split the house in half.

    The landlord lay beneath the demising wall that separated Theo’s space from the owner’s dwelling. The old man wasn’t moving, and by the looks of things, he never would again. The oak basement door swayed, hanging from the top hinge, and before Theo’s eyes, it fell loudly to the floor.

    Theo located a flashlight and peered down the steps, which were still remarkably intact. He had promised the man he would never attempt to enter the basement, had promised a dead man, so who was to say going down would be a dishonest act. Theo rationalized and finally decided it would be ok.

    The first room he entered contained a workbench and what appeared to be taxidermy equipment. Various animal parts littered the bench and several creatures hung from the walls or stood unmoving on the floor. Theo almost decided that he’d seen enough, but a closed door beckoned.

    Theo’s blood chilled in his veins when he pointed the light and saw the man standing before him in full uniform. Adolf Hitler stood, mustachioed, his palm raised. Jimmy Hoffa sat in an armchair, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Elvis performed motionlessly, frozen in mid-gyration.

    Theo dropped the flashlight and ran from the room and up the stairs. Outside, he could hear sirens in the distance. He tried his cell but wasn’t surprised when there was no service. He felt a tremor in the ground and there was a tremendous roar as the aftershock struck. He tried to run but lost his footing. Trees toppled around him and the ground heaved beneath his prone body. This was far worse than the original quake and Theo huddled within the branches of a downed tree until it was over.

    When the dust cleared, the house was gone. A gaping chasm extended across the countryside for as far as Theo could see. The house had been swallowed, along with acres and acres of earth. Theo shook with fear as he crept on his hands and knees closer to the massive crevasse. It was so deep that there was no bottom in sight. He thought the planet itself might crack right in half.

    After a time, he started walking toward town, rehearsing his spiel as to what he’d say about Hitler and the others. But the more he tried to think of what to say, the more insane it sounded. By the time a farmer in a pickup stopped, Theo had decided to keep it to himself. He rode in silence and it dawned on him that if he’d not gone into the basement, he wouldn’t have left the house, and he’d be down there somewhere near the center of the earth sharing a grave with several very prominent individuals. Or maybe not; they could have been fakes. But they certainly looked real and it made Theo feel a little better to know he was likely the only person in the world who knew what had happened to Jimmy Hoffa.

    1. JosephFazzone

      I liked this story. It resolves nicely, and the idea that this man taxidermied famous people grants an even bigger story about the old man, and how he managed it. Lots of room to expand this story here. Great job!

  30. gamingtheblues

    I am sorry to double post this week, but I heard a song today and it inspired this story. I do not own any rights to the song, nor do I have permission to quote it, but…it seemed appropriate.

    ——————————————————————————————————————

    “Been sleep walking, been wandering all night. Try to take what’s lost and broke, and make it right.”

    -Cam- “Burning House”

    The thick, plush navy carpet squeezed through Ashley’s toes as she quietly made her way downstairs through the dark and ticking house. Her grandfather’s bedroom door was closed and silently watchful. It was late and she didn’t want to wake him so she walked carefully, one hand trailing the wall for balance.

    Her nightshirt, white with a beer stein on the front and decorated with a shamrock and the words “The Real Luck of the Irish”, brushed just above her knees. She headed towards the kitchen for a glass of water. (Though the thought of finding a slice of cake, or candy or really anything chocolate might not have been far from her mind.) When she reached the fridge though she didn’t open it, instead pressing her forehead to the cool metal and closing her eyes tightly.

    She was alone, suddenly living in another part of the country with an old man well past his prime and whom she had never known outside of Christmas cards. The slick patch of pavement had taken her life away as surely as it had her parents. There was no drunk driver, no faulty mechanics, no closure, no one to blame. Only a gaping hole in her stomach, in her heart. She clenched her teeth and fought the urge to throw up, fought the need to lie down and crawl under the kitchen table to cry. To scream.

    Ashley sighed deeply and opened her eyes, pulling her forehead from the fridge. Her skin stuck for a brief second and came away with a soft sound. She turned her head and a light struck her eyes. A light. From the basement door. The basement door that was open just a crack. The basement door that her grandfather Abraham had told her in no uncertain terms in his deep voice of gravel,

    “Ashley May, you are permitted to go where you like here. You will be in the house, doors locked by 10:00pm sharp each night. A girl needs her freedom but I have rules and expect them to be followed. And you may never enter the basement. It is off limits. Do you understand?”
    That was her grandfather. (Not papa, papi or grandpa) Polite, cordial, formal, cold. Despite his years, he walked with a straight back, and chopped his own wood, plowed his own drive and attended church every Sunday at 8:00am. He might have been made from granite.

    She crept to the door, and peeked down the stairs. Yellow light streamed from around a corner at the bottom and she was drawn to it. Moth to a flame. Flowers to the sun. She smelled jasmine in the air.

    The room at the bottom of the stairs was lined with shelves. Picture frames arranged carefully. A laughing woman with golden curls, pointing at a large handsome man who had apparently fallen into a river. A painting of a sunset over a mountain lake. Small pottery bears and ticket stubs. A lifetime in knickknacks and silent images. In the corner, a gleaming wooden stand displayed a white flowing dress of lace and pearls.

    She reached out and picked up a small silver frame. In it, the same golden curls was smiling at the same handsome man, cradling a small girl mud splattered girl in his arms. With a start, Ashley realized the little girl was her mother.

    A hand, large and strong suddenly came down on her shoulder and spun her around. The picture fell from her hands, the glass cracking with a soft tinkle. She looked up into her grandfather’s hard, unmoving face. She said the first thing that came to her mind.

    “Grandma..wa..,” her voice cracking with more than a tinkle, ”Grandma…was…beautiful…just like my mom.”

    Ashley’s vision blurred and doubled and she threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around him. She felt him tense…and then something inside of him broke, and he draw her close to him.

    “I miss them so much.” He whispered “I…” But he could not finish. Not then. And as he wept, his face pressed into her hair, he cradled her, almost a full woman grown herself, like the memory of a little, mud splattered girl.

      1. gamingtheblues

        My stories typically have a darker more introspective tone. It was outside my comfort zone to write a story about hope amidst sadness. I am glad that the emotions came through for you.

        1. gamingtheblues

          Kerry: coming from a long time alumn of this forum such as yourself and the types of stories you yourself write and comment on, I take this as high praise indeed. Giving you goose bumps should come with its own plaque and award ceremony.

    1. regisundertow

      Really appreciate the uplifting mood of this story 🙂 Great way to subvert expectations, especially with the description of the grandfather’s description.

    2. charkhanolakha

      this was absolutely beautiful GTB! I loved how you described the grandfather; and the attention to detail. I think Kerry said it perfectly, it was magical.

      1. gamingtheblues

        Beautiful is a word I do not always associate with my own writing. All of the really nice comments have been incredibly heart warming and uplifting. They give me strength to consider pursuing writing seriously. Thank you.

  31. Pete

    I met Ruth Randolph while her husband spoke terms with Adam. We were so full of hope, gushing at our good fortune at having secured a room so close to the shipyards. A job and a room! I could hardly hear a word the tenement managers’ wife said.

    “The bath houses open on Tuesdays and Fridays,” she went on as we strolled along the chilly courtyard between several low-rise buildings on Market Street. I clutched my shawl, partly from the chill but also because I’d noticed how her eyes kept appraising me as though I were livestock.

    The young boys played stick ball while the girls sang songs. Older women hung ragged clothes on the lines while a few drunks staggered about.

    “My you are something. I presume you have no children?”

    I shook my head. A small smile emerged. We turned back, still under the shadows of the cluster of similar buildings overhead.
    “Stay indoors at night, never be alone in the alleyways,” she said sternly. I nodded along, but my steps skidded to a halt when she took my arm in her hand. Her tone went harsh,

    “Do not set foot in the basement.”

    I took vinegar to the walls and floors, our first floor room held a stench that rivaled the filthiest rats in all of Dublin. We grew accustomed to the music filtering through the planks. Piano and laughing. The occasional laugh or clink of glass. No matter, those first weeks were glorious, we never stopped smiling, huddled together for warmth.

    The room was a beginning, not an end. With Adam at the shipyard, he would often come home too tired to do anything but sleep, so I would listen and hum along, looking forward to spring when I hoped we could move.

    That hope perished a month later, when Adam woke up ill. My strapping husband, reduced to a clump on that floor. I stayed with him, a damp rag on his forehead as his skin turned pale, then ashen. I held him in my arms and felt him melt away. A week later I was a widow.

    The rent was due, then due again. As was the hospital bill. Then I returned home one night from the textile factory to find Mr. Randolph, waiting for me, fiddling with his hat in his hand and his eyes cast low.

    “Mrs. Collins, it’s come to,” he fumbled along, “I’ve uh, I must ask that you to be out.”

    I started to plead, to beg for just one more week when the lust in his stare caught my voice. We stood there, our visible breaths between us, something unspeakable in the cold night air.

    “Tomorrow, Mrs. Collins. One last night to get your affairs together.”

    I lay in my bed, tight against the wall. A ball with guilt. I spoke aloud to Adam, my dearest, in the dark, as the piano mocked my heartbreak. A woman’s laugh shook the floor. I wiped my eyes and pulled myself to my feet.

    I lifted my skirt to keep from stepping on the hem. The stairs were narrow, rickety and wet but leading to warmth. The music and laughter—however at odds with such conditions—reminded me of my mother, singing in the kitchen, the tingle of magic in her hands when she stroked my hair.

    A drunken man reached out from the darkness, grasping at my calf. Slobbering and drooling, a short kick to the head put him back to sleep.

    My hand found the forbidden door. For a flickering moment I was on that boat with my husband, giddy with wonder, our futures still intact, waiting across the sea for us to unwrap. Now they were nailed shut in a coffin.

    Mrs. Randolph sat on the piano—some form of her anyway—with a hair chain and headpiece, her dress yanked to the garter on her thigh. Her mouth was adorned with the stem of her cigarette holder and her voice possessed an even confidence of a woman who had her way in the world. She turned to me, standing in the doorway and exhaled a plume of smoke.

    “Ella,” she said as though she’d been expecting me all along. A simple lift of her gloved hand and the music fell. Edgar Randolph, the property manager, peeked over the top, to me, and even with the pistol within his reach he his eyes flickered like a shy schoolboy.

    Two men smiled on. Drunk and flushed, cards and coins scattered on the table. One had a young girl in his lap. Another girl danced, even as the only music in the room was the hiss of the coal furnace. Mrs. Randolph slid off the piano and onto the Persian rug with practiced ease.

    “Have a drink, girl.”

    I had no delusions as to my surroundings. In my darkest hour an even darker opportunity presented itself. The gin burned away my pride. Again I felt those eyes, like a tape measure across my breast, waist, to my bottom. Madame Ruth’s smile glowed like a chandelier as she studied my face. I said a prayer, a final goodbye to my beloved Adam, just as Mrs. Randolph took my cheeks in her hands.

    “Oh Edgar, I do believe you were right about this one.”

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Join me with the chorus. The reader feels the emotion for this poor girl sand yet the outcome appear all too plain for her. A rear tragedy in a classic style.

    1. Beebles

      Again, excellent story Pete and I feel in very capable hands as I read. I did like that last line in particular: Mrs Randolph’s character just bursts through.

    2. ajhaughee83

      You did an excellent job showing the time period through smaller details like washing the walls with vinegar, a young woman wearing a shawl, piano music… Another thing I appreciated – I am assuming you are male (from the name Pete, feel free to correct me) – and for me personally I find it intimidating to do first person in the opposite gender. So nice work with that. :0)

    3. regisundertow

      Lovely and heartbreaking at the same time. The transition feels natural, because that’s the hand your MC has been dealt. Really enjoyed reading it.

    4. charkhanolakha

      Oh my god, Pete, I absolutely loved this! The small details painted such a vivid picture of your mc’s life with Adam, and of the deterioration and decay of the part of town they inhabited. So many wonderful lines in this.

  32. Observer Tim

    TANNI GOES DOWNSTAIRS

    To celebrate the release of “Fall of the Galactic Empire”, which contains one of my stories (My People), I provide this story, which sheds light on the only character I haven’t profiled here before.

    I don’t like planets. “Tanni, wear some clothes,” they say, or “Tanni, there are decency laws here.” The only decent thing I like is a meal, and someone warm to cuddle after eating it. Now we’re stuck on this planet for a whole month while they put new thrusters in the Thorn. Captain Stefi has rented us a dirtsider house and we have to live here.

    The basement is dark and empty; there’s no reason for Stefi to say “Tanni, don’t pick that lock.” The sounds are louder here, but they’re still coming from below.

    I purr softly to myself while I look for a way further down. Now that they’re clearer, the sounds are definitely people. I like people. They’re warm and can usually be convinced to stroke my fur and hip cuddle with me, especially the males. I hope these people are furry like me, but they’re probably humans.

    It takes some searching to find the hidden door. It’s locked too, with an alarm. Everything is high quality and designed to be unbreakable; it takes almost five minutes to disable. The spiral passage beyond smells of fur and sweat, and goes down two full circles before ending in another locked and alarmed door.

    It opens into a cell with yet another locked door and a mouse-man sleeping on a metal cot. I pinch his snout to silence him and lick his ear. He awakens smelling like fear until he feels my furry body sliding against his and figures out what I want. Stefi says cats and mice usually fight, but I prefer my way of saying hello.

    Once I’m relaxed and purring I whisper in his ear, “Why are you here?”

    He strokes my leg with his tail, “For you.”

    “No, why were you brought here?”

    “I was stolen from the farm with my littermates. The humans intend to sell us.”

    “Why are you alone?”

    “They split us up so we wouldn’t escape.”

    “How many guards are there?” Stefi always asks how many guards there are.

    “Three, with bolters and stun-guns.”

    “Are they all human?”

    “Yes.”

    “Good, that makes it easier to tell who they are. I have a plan.”

    We cuddle more loudly this time, and I let out a yowl at the best moment. Footsteps in the hall are my reward.

    The last thing guard-man expects when he opens the door is forty-five kilos of hostile kitty-girl. Once he’s down I bat his head back and forth until he falls unconscious.

    We find the second guard cuddling with a scared mouse-girl; my mouse-boy shoots him with the stun-gun from the other guard. I get to say Stefi’s line.

    “I’m Tanni and you’re being rescued. Come with me.”

    The last guard surrenders; it’s him against nine mice and a kitty. We take him back to Stefi so she can get mad at him for stealing people.

    And me? I have nine grateful mice to play with; some of them have already offered to cuddle and I’m not the type to say no.

    1. jhowe

      As a privileged reader of ‘My People’ in its pre-published version, I found this very entertaining. I recognized Tani’s voice immediately and was very pleased with her actions in this one. I liked how you brought Stefi into the story without her being there. And I loved when Tani batted the guards head around and had to stifle a laugh, because as you know, I do most of my reading at work. The dialog was spot on and Tani’s personality was very appealing. I’m bet your editor would jump at a sequel featuring these characters, if you can find the right anthology to fit it in.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          Another rouser from you Tim. I have just the place for Tanni, at my house, I need another kitty to keep me amused. I don’t care if she batters my head, I’m used to such things. After all at my age it pays to live with danger.

    2. Nicki EagerReader

      Awesome, Tim! It’s like you foresaw I’d check out the Forum this weekend 🙂 I think I already told you that Tanni’s one of my all-time favorite characters provided by you (next to Wanda 😀 ) . Nice take!

    3. charkhanolakha

      Congrats OT 🙂 virtual high five!
      I real enjoyed this. I haven’t read Tanni before, but I feel like a real life cat girl would be exactly that fond of dinner and cuddling. I also thought it was very clever the way you brought the other character, Stefi, into the story, especially this line ” I get to say Stefi’s line.”

  33. JosephFazzone

    It was a faded green door that led to the basement, and it boomed a foreboding feeling that dug its claws into my spine. The worn brass door handle felt ice cold as my hand slowly encircled it and turned. A sharp click was heard. The sound chased itself down a corridor of echoes swelling into a shrill cry. My mouth was dry, my resolve weak, and yet I could not stop myself as I slowly entered. Of course the light was off. Of course it was. Why would a spooky place with spooky sounds that spook the crap out of me have the light on? And of course there wasn’t a light switch, but an old light with one of those weak metal chains that would snap easily if one were inclined to yank too hard, and of course, of course, of course, the light was three steps into the basement. My anger at the circumstances being what they were had the good grace to line up in a way that was more annoying than scary. My resolve stood stoically beside me. The steps were cement, cold, and of course I decided to explore before I remembered to grab my shoes and socks. BUT OF COURSE. At this point, I didn’t care anymore. I wanted it done.

    My resolve, seemingly built of a false pretense, shattered as I took my deliberate steps, all three, and yanked on the chain too hard. The light flashed, a face of twisted evil, grimacing and flashing his sharp rotted, broken teeth stood at the bottom of the stairs. His blood red eyes glared through my skin, through my flesh, through my soul. The light went out. The door slammed shut, and OF COURSE IT DID. I was livid. I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it was all those horror movies where I just felt bad for the victims, and how they were petrified and bawling uncontrollably before their pitiful end. Maybe I just had enough shit, and it was time to put an end to it. I broke into a run down the stairs in the pitch black. It didn’t matter what he looked like, and it didn’t matter what he would do to me. I was going to tear it to shreds. I was sick of the ‘of course’s.

    I could smell its fetid breath, the foul stench of its rotting flesh. I just didn’t give a crap. I barreled into it at high speed. The darkness gave rise to my anger as I imagined me pummeling this rotted beast until my fists where bloody and broken, and so help me that’s just what I did. My hands buzzed and pulsed as the adrenaline soared through me, I felt no pain. I was standing on my knees over this smelly thing that didn’t move, didn’t do anything. All I could do was catch my breath. The smell overtook me as I gagged and then I vomited. It was kind of funny how I could smell the garlic from the spaghetti I had for lunch through all that nastiness. Garlic still makes me gag.

    I was there in the darkness for a good while just trying to get my bearings. Eventually I got up, and made my way up the stairs. I opened the door, and in the light of the sun shining from the house, I could make out all the congealed blood, entrails, and my lunch all over me. I looked down into the basement, and couldn’t see still, but I did see a little bit of the chain was still hanging to the light so I gently pulled it. I saw it was a walker, though I didn’t know what it was at the time. The force of my push had shoved its head into a protruding pipe killing it instantly. It was my roommate’s sister. She was one of the first to fall victim to the…well you already know that story, but yeah, that was my first. What was yours?

    1. charkhanolakha

      Loved this line “My resolve, seemingly built of a false pretense”.
      Also, yup, ” I could make out all the congealed blood, entrails, and my lunch all over me” made me taste my own lunch.
      Nicely done!!

  34. gregmyarbrough

    I could hear the floor squeak and pop as he got up off of the recliner in the other room and turned off the TV. Next it was the light switch, and, like all the other nights since I had been in the house, chaos from the basement rose out of the darkness that followed him as he made his way to bed.

    The rent was incredible for the two bedroom and one bath flat he had made out of the second floor of the old brownstone on the corner of MacTavish and Stone. A swanky address for less than I was paying for the closet with a glorified water hose that passed for my apartment; breaking the lease was a no-brainer – I packed my two bags full of life and moved on uptown.

    …Too good to be true never crossed my mind…

    The first night I don’t remember, I was really tired and fell right out, although I vaguely think I recall disturbing images of little elves running around my bed and a rather well-spoken and boisterous tiger telling me that I was “great”. (Which, when I really think about it, was very odd because tigers, as a general rule, are almost always surly and bitter.) Anyway, I never said a word about the nightly concert emanating from the basement for a while. My landlord and his wife never mentioned anything about it as the days turned into weeks and months, so I didn’t either.

    But tonight it was magnificent, an aural kaleidoscope of crashes and smashes that seemed to echo off of the very foundation of the house, capped with just the faintest hint of cursing in a tone reminiscent of someone from the Lollipop guild.

    What was it!? I couldn’t imagine and I knew that I had promised that I would not let my curiosity get the best of me – my lease depended on that. And yet there I was slowly turning the knob on the basement door, hoping against hope that a slow and steady twist along with held breath would not give me away as I quietly cracked the door and slipped my night shirted body onto the top step.

    The noise exploded through the cracked door as I stepped down onto the next step and hesitantly bent over to peek under the floor joist that formed the ceiling of the basement. The noise was unrelenting as I watched what appeared to be three little elves running around large boilers and steam pipes, one pouring what appeared to be white rice into a large siphon on one end, while another kept feeding pale blue boxes under a large grate that was spewing puffed rice on the other end. A large striped tiger sat on one side of the boiler machine, talking to my landlord, Mr. Kellogg.

    All the while, the snapping, crackling, and popping never stopped.

    1. jhowe

      That was well done and nicely written. One thing I really liked was how you explained that the MC peeked under the floor joist that formed the basement ceiling. I like it when a writer really nails a small detail like that.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I also was highly entertained with your story. Attention to detail makes this hum and then the disclosure was a real smash at the end. You caught me off guard

  35. Trevor

    Word Count: 988 (I went a little nuts)

    In The Basement

    All her life, Ashley wanted nothing more than to get away from dull small town life. She grew up in rural Connecticut, waiting tables at an old diner. It was such a mundane existence and it was driving Ashley crazy. So when she graduated from community college, the first thing the young woman was determined to do was move out of her small home state. But before she could, she needed to arrange for a place to stay.

    That’s what brought her to Sheri’s front door. While looking through roommate ads online, she came across an ad from a woman named Sheri Locklean. She lived in a suburban house with a guest house in the back she was renting out. With a rent cost of only $50 a month, Ashley thought it was a dream come true. After a short Skype call with Sheri, Ashley packed her things and drove to her new home.

    For the first month, Ashley’s new living arrangement worked swimmingly. The guest house was comfy and Sheri couldn’t have been a better landlord. She only had one rule: The basement of her house was strictly off-limits. Assuming there was mold or constructional damage that made the basement dangerous, Ashley didn’t give the rule much thought. Besides, it’s not like she had any use for the basement.

    But then, late one summer night, Ashley snuck into the main house, in desperate need of a cold drink. But as she searched through the refrigerator, she heard a noise. It sounded like a rattling of metal, like someone bashing two metal pipes together.

    “Sheri?” Ashley called out in a voice just above a whisper. But Ashley knew the noise couldn’t be Sheri. Her bedroom was upstairs, far from the kitchen. Reluctantly, Ashley decided to investigate. She tiptoed down the hallway as the metallic noise grew louder. It didn’t take long for her to realize where the sound was coming from.

    It was coming from the basement.

    “What the hell is down there?” Ashley wondered. “Did an animal get in somehow?” Ashley didn’t want to break the one rule her kind housemate had set, but she knew she couldn’t go back to bed without knowing what was in the basement making such a bizarre sound. After making sure Sheri hadn’t been awoken, Ashley opened the door and started down the wooden stairwell.

    The stairs were old and creaked with each step Ashley took. There was no banister, so Ashley had to feel along the wall to keep steady. When she reached the bottom, she heard a loud crunch from underneath her sneaker. Ashley looked down to see chunks of a white substance she couldn’t recognize scattered on the floor by her foot.

    “Help! Please, help me!” A small, meek cry startled Ashley. She turned around and gasped when she saw where the cry had originated. A large metal fence was in the center of the room-and behind that fence was a young girl. She looked to be about 9 or 10 years old. She had short blonde hair and was wearing a short white dress covered in patches of dirt. There was some dirt also smeared on her pale cheeks.

    “Help me….please, you have to let me out.” The girl called out to Ashley as she slowly walked toward her. Ashley didn’t know what to make of this.

    “What are you doing down here? What happened?” Ashley asked, her voice quivering. The girl hurried up to the fence and got close to Ashley’s face.

    “She brought me here. I didn’t want to leave my Mommy, but she made me go! Please, you have to get me out before she finds us!” The girl’s voice was high and pleading. Ashley noticed tears forming in the corners of her light blue eyes.

    “H-how do I open this fence?” Ashley asked the girl in a trembling voice. The girl pointed over at the gate door that was built in the far corner of the gate. Ashley ran over to the door, undid the lock, and flung open the metal door. With a cry of joy, the girl ran to Ashley and jumped into her arms. Ashley slowly returned the terrified child’s embrace.

    “Thank you! Thank you so much!” The girl said, tightening her grip on Ashley. When the girl let go of Ashley, she peeked into what was the girl’s prison. She gasped when she saw the floor was covered in dry bones. The one that stuck out the most to Ashley was the skull. The fact that it was much too small to be an adult’s only further disturbed her. But nothing could have prepared her to the deep, almost demonic voice Ashley heard as she backed away from the gruesome scene beyond the fence.

    “She will make for a delicious meal.”

    Before Ashley could turn around, she was grabbed from behind. Then, a white cloth was shoved over her mouth. Ashley fought and struggled to free herself, but the arms restraining her were too strong. As the chloroform began to overpower her, Ashley heard a voice that had become all too familiar over the past month.

    “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Ash….”
    ************************************************************************************************************************
    I hate myself for what I’ve been doing. So many people have died because of my weakness. My only comfort is that I make sure all her victims are sedated before she feeds on them. I feel guilt for each person I sacrifice to her, but Ashley’s death stung the worst. I had grown so close to her. She was so young and so full of life. She would’ve led such a wonderful life.

    I wish I had the strength to stand up to her. I wish I could finally end her reign of terror over me. I wish I could kill her and rid the world of her wickedness. But I can’t.

    No matter how evil she is, I can’t bring myself to kill my baby.

    1. regisundertow

      Echoes of Stephen King, very chilling. To be fair, there’s no way this could have ended well, but I still got surprised by the switch in POV at the end, it was very effective.

  36. breezysatur

    I keep on thinking if what’s really at the basement, what is the owner hiding to me. Every night I keep on hearing that noise, it’s like a baby crying and a woman whose laughing, crying, angry, it’s like she’s going crazy.
    I didn’t sneak at first, I am a new renter on the other hand I am new in the city, I don’t have any one to ask nor talk to. I just ignore it for several days, however it keep on bugging me and I can’t sleep.

    Early in the morning I asked the owner of the house
    ” is there someone in the basement?” the owner talked back in a husk voice
    “mind your own business, don’t you ever try to go there!”

    It really bother me and I was telling myself not to sneak in there for the owner of the house might kick me out.

    Until one night I sneak downstairs. I slowly opened the door, the room was dark and smelly it’s like rotten dead rat. I got my phone over my pocket and switch on the light and to my surprise it was a small nurse room with blood all over and someone hit me behind and I pass out.

    1. Reaper

      I’d like to see some of this fleshed out, unless you’re going for a minimalist feel. There is a lot of creep here that could be stronger if there was some more focus on the visceral elements that want to shine through. I could see going further but also think your ending point could be perfect.

    2. charkhanolakha

      Hey breezy! I agree with ajhaugee, this is a fine start. The one thing I will say is (and I need to do this myself, as well) is that it would help your story telling if you worked on ironing out some grammatical issues. Keep at it! Looking forward to more from you!

    3. Beebles

      Hi Breezy. I liked hearing about what your character was feeling. The more I learned about them, the more I cared what happened to them and so the more the tension built. Did they wake up?

  37. thejim

    “I kept hearing this muffled sound, like a… mumble or a grunt. It was faint but still inside the house.” Steve said as he leaned back in his chair.
    The dimly lit area, which he sat in, cast shadows that quickly ran off into the corners of the boxed room. He rubbed he face with his hands trying to shake off his confusion.
    He stared up into the ceiling, his eyes darted back and forth trying to recall every last detail.
    “I’m not really sure how long I sat there before I decided to get up.” His body came forward and his elbows propped up his tired body on the table in front of him.
    He began to rub his hands together each finger popped as he moved from one digit to the next till he had cracked every joint in his hands.

    A shallow voice from a speaker on the wall said. “Go ahead, the rest.”

    “Well I got up and followed the sound to the stairs; I made my way down slowly as to not raise suspicion from the murmurer.” Steve Said,
    “I slowly opened the door at the bottom of the stairs and I could see a faint light bouncing off the cement wall toward the back of the basement.
    I made my way into the darkness to a curtain that blocked most of the light. There was a long tear in it and I peered in. On a table behind the curtain was a man or should I say half a man. Wires and tubes were coming out from his body. His chest would rise and fall slowly so I knew he was still alive.
    The soft hum of machines pumped fluids in and out of him. There was no blood, nothing like that, just a half of a man with only one arm.”

    Steve sat straight in the chair and a blinked slowly his eyes squinted to see if he could make out who was in the room with him.

    “And then” the voice said.

    Steve rested back in his chair. “Then I saw his face. It was me, or looked like to me. I moved around to the edge of the curtain across from the end of the table.
    As I looked at him, he turned his head and our eyes met.” Steve stopped talking and just stared out into the dark room.

    “Well now, said the shallow voice, I can see we have made some progress. Do you remember it all?”

    Steve closed his eyes and nodded slowly.

    “Good. The voice became muffled and other voices could be made out, like a distant conversation.
    The voice on the speaker was different this time, deeper. “Now that we are once again complete, we can move forward with the final stages.”

    Steve opened his eyes, from his angle on the table be could barely see the rip in the curtain where he had tried many years ago to escape.
    He wished he could cry but those tears had dried up long ago.

    1. madeindetroit

      Interesting story.

      Strange forces keeping the body of the MC alive in a dark basement? My only suggestion is to break up the first two paragraphs at the beginning. It would make for an easier read.

    2. Reaper

      This kept me enthralled. Honestly I was so focused on the psychological and emotional aspects that the physical part of the horror faded into the background. That is truly terrifying.

    3. ajhaughee83

      You did a really good job going moment to moment in detail – the timespan of the entire piece is very short but it feels like almost an eternity because of your deliberate use of detail.

    4. charkhanolakha

      Hey jim! Like the others, I really liked your use of detail, especially “He began to rub his hands together each finger popped as he moved from one digit to the next till he had cracked every joint in his hands.” and “His chest would rise and fall slowly so I knew he was still alive.” I would like to read more of this!

  38. Pete

    I loved the conversational tone to this, especially the way you squeezed in dialogue with the description. As for Santa, I had to laugh, because I was not expecting it! Great take!

  39. gamingtheblues

    “Look, If there was one saving grace to that god forsaken hole of an apartment, in this god forsaken freezing hellhole of a city, It’s that the building was huge and my rent was crazy cheap. It was one of those large converted factory deals, but someone forgot to do the whole conversion part.

    The owner was as ill tempered and shady as shady can get. Black knit cap to his eyes, wet handshake, slimy smile, shifty eyes, no credit check, no lease agreement, money paid weekly and random twitchy characters coming to the back door at all hours with packages. So when Percius (no seriously, that was the landlord’s name) mentioned almost in passing,

    “Oh, and one more thing. The basement. Don’t go in there.”

    “Uh..ok. Why?”

    “Look guy, what’s hard to understand? Don’t go in the fucking basement, Aight?”

    it really did not surprise me.

    Whatever right? I had not interest in bothering the crack den or whatever shit they had going on down there. Nor did I want to get stabbed for my trouble. That is, until the noises started. Did I say noises though? I mean crashes, smashes, and what sounded suspiciously like glass breaking and small explosions. All right underneath my bedroom at night. I sucked it up for as long as I could, I really did. But when your bed starts shifting from the commotion, something has to be done.

    So I called the Police. (Here is the part that you say I should have called my Landlord right? Yeah how do you think that would go…)

    “Hello, Percius?”

    “What the fuck you want?”

    “Well…I’m having trouble sleeping…there seems to be some sort of banging coming from down stairs…you know from your meth lab, coke house, prostitution ring or whatever is down there. Could you please ask them to quiet down? Thanks.”

    Sure…would have gone swimmingly.

    Anyway…I reported the commotion and the officer on the other line asked the address. I told him.

    On my way to the big elevator (one of those big jobs with the metal accordion gate you open and close) that led to the basement, I reflected that I didn’t think it was possible to speak while laughing so hard, but that the policeman on the phone has persevered and accomplished enough to tell me, and I quote, “Get bent, we don’t go out there anymore.”

    So, I began to feel rather foolish as the elevator descended into the depths of the building, confronting whatever was down here with an old umbrella. What else was I supposed to do though? Technically we “were” neighbors, maybe I could just ask nicely.

    The elevator opened on a long, dank hallway, with single bulbs hanging from chains spaced every 30 feet or so. (It seems that all basement hallways in old factories have to have this aesthetic. ) I crept down the hallway, the tiny bit of instinct I had telling me to be quiet. The hallway was blocked at the end by a sliding door of steel and rust. There were deep rents in the steel, one deep enough to peer through into the room beyond.

    The room was cavernous and dark beyond the 30 feet or from the doorway. I could just make out what looked row upon row of conveyer belts turning in the gloom. They rumbled, and clanked as many and more shadowy shapes tended to the belts and the packages that whisked by in and out of sight. Nearby I saw a person pull a stuffed bear from a large box and stuff the back of the bear with several small bags and then throw the bear on the nearest conveyer. Voices though to the left caught my attention and I shifted to try and see the speakers.

    I recognized the wiry form of Percius immediately. He was talking to a giant of a man. Arms like trunks and a keg for a chest.

    “Sir. Demand is up 76% from last year. We are having trouble keeping up, and we still don’t have a good solution for how to get our product to our customers without raising suspicion sir. Written requests for visits are drying up as people get worried about being caught, and this day and age sir, they cannot even use the kids as an excuse anymore.“

    The Giant laughed. Long, and slow his laugh was, it came from deep within him and rolled around the room, filling the space and thrumming my ears. It was terrible.

    “HO…HO…HO… little Percius. Never fear… I have taken care of it already… Don’t forget who I am. And take that fucking hat off your head. It is insulting, be proud of who you are.”
    The giant ripped the hat off Percuis’s head and his ears popped out. His long…pointed ears.
    “Percius….we have a guest.” And suddenly a face filled my view hole. Red, glowing eyes. A long, thick beard braided with golden hoops and green bells.

    “And the next thing I knew…I was here.”

    The rat sat looking at the man chained to the wall for a long moment and then scurried out of reach and ran into the darkness. The rat knew he would find something sweet to eat on the floor if he waited long enough in the kitchens.

    1. madeindetroit

      Great twist at the end!
      Loved the description and dialogue.

      Very creepy:
      Nearby I saw a person pull a stuffed bear from a large box and stuff the back of the bear with several small bags and then throw the bear on the nearest conveyor.

      Great to see you back, Gaming!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Don’t get me anywhere near this place of fright and frenzy. I won’t sleep tonight and maybe tomorrow night. Loved the grit and realizism of your writing.

    2. Reaper

      Well, from the fact that I saw your name a few weeks back I am sure I missed a story or two. However, you still have your touch and your sense of style. Nice to see you haunting these halls again.

    3. regisundertow

      Geez, I don’t want to see how Rudolph looks like in that universe. Wasn’t sure where this was going, but as soon as the story turned supernatural, my interested piqued.

    4. gamingtheblues

      Jeeze…Thank you guys. I was worried that at the bottom no one would read it…and I neglected to check the comments for it.

      Madeindetroit: I am glad you enjoyed the Dialogue. I always worry my Dialogue is the weak point of my writing.

      Joseph: My stories are never planned but flow out on their own…it seemed Natural to find the jolly man in the basement of a warehouse 😉

      Kerry: I am glad that those came across. I was not sure if the objective silliness of the story was going to fight against any inherent creepiness.

      Reaper: I am glad to be back too! But writing takes ALOT out of me and sometimes I do not have the emotional energy to live the lives of my characters.

      AJ: Tone is my favorite thing to find in another’s stories and to write into my own. I am glad you enjoyed it.

      Regis: DAMN IT!!! I totally missed an opportunity to make the landlord named Rudolf with a “red nose” ……. still maybe a legit “pet” rudolf would have been better.

      The Beebs: Yes… I always found santa a bit creepy.. especially those shelf elves.

      Chark: Nudge nudge wink wink indeed!

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