A distant breeze, a fluttering of curtains and the choking seductions of a dusty cellar are the simple ingredients for this tear-full tale.
Echoes | Cellar
Brennan heard the fluttering sound, a subtle rustle, like the comforting touch of a breeze, flowing through the house, rather than around it. It was the middle of the night, just the occasional sound of a car speeding past, or a fox screeching at the local cats. He rubbed his eyes and lifted the blind above his bed, looking out at the long street of white picket-fenced houses, stretching far into the darkness, submerged in the brutal night. And he remembered the home he’d fled from, just a few weeks before.
He slipped out of bed to fetch some water. The bare floorboards creaked under his feet, as he crept out of the room, onto the wide, dark landing, then down the stairs, trying to keep silent, not to wake the rest of the family. He’d been grateful even for the cautious welcome of his estranged cousins. He would not have called on them if he hadn’t needed sanctuary, an adult, escaping the home of his youth, to the enemies of his grandfather.
The breeze curled at his feet. He’d been here a week, but he was still unnerved by the gaps in the windows and under the doors. He would have sealed them up years ago, his own parents, then the grandparents who had raised him after their untimely death, were paranoid about any form of intrusion from the outside world.
Brennan padded anxiously through to the kitchen, found a glass and gently turned the tap. As the water ran from warm to cold he stood still, alert to every tiny reverberation around him, as the years in the family home had trained him to do.
He heard the rustling again. It was like a heavy curtain being drawn. He grimaced, remembering there were no curtains in this house. He pushed himself away from the kitchen and slunk cautiously back through to the living room. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the night, but he could see nothing unusual.
But there it was again, the sound of a curtain being pulled quietly shut. He looked around. It wasn’t coming from upstairs. He moved across the living room, to the staircase. The breeze caught his legs again, and made him shiver.
The sound flickered through the air again, now more like a flapping of wings, or shuffling of feet. It seemed to coil around his sleepy half-consciousness and tug at the sleeves of his mind,
It was coming from the door underneath the stairs. He hadn’t been there yet, the cellar. No-one had mentioned it either. No particular reason, he supposed.
He decided to ignore the sound and tried to go back upstairs. But something stopped him. A thought, a memory, the sound of the curtains flapping again, and the breeze licking at his feet. He was curious, regretful of other times when he hadn’t found out what the sounds were, in his own home. Perhaps he was dreaming, but he found the pull of curiosity more powerful than the makeshift guest bed upstairs.
He turned and stepped across the bare floorboards, and reached for the handle on the door under the stairs.
It opened easily, inwards to the basement, releasing a wall of stale, fetid air. He stifled a cough. Below he was faced with a steep, wooden staircase, and a flimsy rail to his left. He placed a bare foot on the top step. It seemed solid enough, but even in the darkness he could see a flurry of dust, disturbed by his footfall, and the wood was cold.
The gentle shuffling and flapping sound pulled him on. He had not heard this sound in this house, in the last few days, but as he placed his other foot on the next step he realized that he remembered something similar.
Another foot, another step. The sound again, came from below: soft, rustling fluttering, it was an echo of familiar sounds from his old family home. In the years when his parents were alive, when his grandparents were visitors, rather than the substitute parents they became.
He took a further step, his shoulder grazed the bottom edge of the door. He lifted a hand to rub at the pain and caught the underside of the door, swinging it shut quietly. There was a restrained, but definite click.
He stood in the darkness. His heart thumped hard, like a bird’s when caught in the hand. The shuffling and fluttering now played with the edges of his courage. He wanted to turn back. A small voice, his own, childish self, lingered in the crevices of his mind and told him the door would not, could not open, from the inside.
At first he thought the darkness below was solid, but now he saw the dust was floating lazily, like little stars, blooming in expanding clouds, slowly sucked away from the stairs, towards the sounds below.
He tried to peer through the darkness, and leant forward, placing more of his weight on the banister. He felt the unsteady rail shiver. He pulled back, and gasped suddenly. This made him shift his weight slightly and forced him into another step forward, before he was ready, so he placed a heavy heel onto the next level, and slipped, hard, his foot crashing through, the wood breaking, his leg shooting down, shards of wood piercing his thigh, a bellow of dust bursting into the dark.
“Uh!” He tried to keep his shock inside, but gulped the dusty air instead, and coughed, spluttering, choking, scattering more of the smothering dust.
The sounds all around stopped. His leg felt as though it had been torn off. The inside of his throat was coated in dust, he felt a slow asphyxiation, the inflamed flesh of his throat bulging inwards, restricting his windpipe. He grasped at his neck, pulling at his skin, he tried to shout, but only a rasp emerged. His eyes widened, he was desperate, stretching at the steps, and his neck, and below him he noticed the darkness was receding slightly, little folds appeared, like the mosquito curtains around his bed when he was young, and he saw, with painful, murky eyes, the reassuring face of his grandfather, floating behind the folds of the darkness, between the drifts of dust, smiling, as though checking on him, making sure he was safe.
But the grip of the stairs was strong, and he wrestled with his awkward confinement, wrenched himself free, and his balance again rolling forward, falling heavily down the stairs to the rigid, unforgiving concrete floor, raising yet more billows of dust.
The musty, fine powder fell in thick beads from the stairs, shuffling and fluttering, skittering around his broken head.
As he struggled for air grappling still with his throat, he felt a creeping numbness; but still he clung to the gentle sounds, the little wings in the darkness. With his cheek cold against the concrete, the soothing warmth of his own blood spilling around his head, he lifted pain-drenched eyelids and he saw a thin film of curtain flutter around him.
The face of his grandfather spilled and heaved, close to flesh of his own face, and hidden memories of a childhood spent lurking and afraid welled up Brennan’s splintered spine. Beyond the face, under the stairs lay the crumpled bodies of Brennan’s young brothers, concealed in the dark behind curtains of falling dust.
The aged face reared, as it used to, the malevolent, remorseless eyes bore down, and the young man’s final breath was ripped from his gagging throat.
The next morning, the rest of the house awoke to find their guest at the bottom of the stairs in the cellar. A thick layer of dust was draped like a shroud across his wracked frame. His limbs were contorted, his open mouth overflowing with dust and his wretched face bore the simple terror of a child.
Text, image, audio © 2014 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam, Logic Pro, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, Apogee Condenser microphone, Rotring pens and inks, and Alfons Schmidt’s fantastic Notebook app.
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