A short story for the Reverse Big Bang on Livejournal
We move in with Grandfather during the first gray days of winter, between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am distracted by the new school and new friends at first, but quickly fall into my old boring school routines. I want something exciting to do but my parents don’t let me explore the new neighborhood, leaving me to explore Grandfather’s house.
I start poking into every nook, every corner of my new home looking for something, anything to relieve my boredom. A week passes before discovering a door, hidden behind some moving boxes in the kitchen. It doesn’t feel like an accident that the boxes are there. Mom and Dad seem to ignore the door, not looking when they pass by; Grandfather merely glances at it once each day. What is behind this door?
One afternoon, when everyone else is napping, I get my opportunity. It takes a few minutes, but I move enough of the boxes to get close to the door. Running my hand across its surface, the flaking paint bites into my palm. There are dents and gouges marring its surface, speaking to past abuse. It also has an odd odor, like a public bathroom after someone has cleaned up week old vomit, and it looks like it should weigh tons.
The cold brass knob turns easily but the door remains shut. I shake the handle, in case it’s stuck, but it remains closed. I start moving the boxes further back thinking that is blocking my progress, but am wrong. I start looking at the door itself and finally notice the massive deadbolt several inches above the handle.
Dad comes in to the kitchen and ushers me off to less noisome play. That night, I wake to strange sounds coming from the vent next to my bed. I can’t tell if they’re voices singing or an unknown language.
The next morning, I ask Grandfather where the door goes.
“Down,” he replies.
“What’s down there?”
“Never you mind. Now finish eating and get ready for school,” he says. His thick accent changes the cadence of the words, making them into a chant.
My curiosity overflows at the rebuff and I wait for an opportunity to corner my parents and then surprise them with a direct question: “What’s downstairs?”
“Don’t go down there,” mom tells me.
“No. You can’t go in the basement. It’s too dangerous,” my father responds.
“Never-never go down. Verboten,” pronounced my grandfather. His hand landed on the table with a heavy bang, a signal that this is the last time it was to be brought up. I start to protest, but my parents remove me from the kitchen.
My mom looks me in the eye, “That’s enough of the foolish questions. You shouldn’t be bothering him about it. Now, I understand you’re curious, but you’re going to have to be happy with the mystery.”
“But I heard something from my vent last night. It sounded like someone talking,” I explain.
My parents look at each other for a fleeting moment, before turning back to me. My mother runs her hands through my hair while dad grabs our jackets.
“We are going to a movie tonight. A treat since your Mother has a new part-time job,” he says over his shoulder.
I wait by the door as they finish getting ready and Grandfather wanders over to me.
“I heard what you told your parents. This old house has many strange noises, you should not worry. You had a dream. Nothing more. You were dreaming noises.”
After that, the subject is dropped despite not being sure I believe their answers. The basement can’t be all that dangerous. I watched the moving guys taking our stuff in there. And the noises aren’t something I dreamt.
I think it over for a few days and decide on a different approach. If I can’t ask about the house as it is now, I should be able to ask about it in the past. So I go to my Dad and ask him about growing up here. I ask my Mom if Dad ever told her any stories about growing up. And every time I do this, Grandfather comes into the room. Both of my parents immediately go quiet and ask me to go do my homework.
I stew for days without any other ideas until one lands on me from school. It’s time for the annual Science Fair and I have one put away from last year. Down in the basement. I just need to time it so I catch Mom or Dad alone to ambush them with my request. It happens to be Mom in the living room a day later.
“I want my toys,” I tell her.
“Which ones,” she asks.
“The rockets. They’re in my moving box,” I say.
She looks at me skeptically. Luckily, I have a good reason.
“I need them for the Science Fair,” the smile on face broadens as I say the words. I should feel bad at the lie but I don’t.
“It’ll have to wait until your father gets home. He knows where all that stuff is.”
“But I should start on it now. I want to make sure nothing got broken,” I say.
“And you’ll have plenty of time when your father gets home, it won’t be long. Now sit down and be patient,” she says.
Mom goes back to reading her book. I hadn’t counted on her immunity to my whines, something I make sure to note. I sit down and pull open a magazine, slowly turning the unread pages waiting for Dad.
When he does get home, Mom tells him of my request and then the two of them go find Grandfather. I watch from top of the stairs. There’s some discussion, but I can’t hear what they say to one another. About ten minutes later, Dad and Grandfather go out the front door. When they come back after a few moments, Dad has my box of toys.
“I brought the whole box so you don’t have to worry about getting anything else out of the basement,” dad says.
“Thanks dad,” I smile and take the box up to my room. So much for that plan.
I think about it for a while and can’t come up with another excuse. Nothing of mine is left down there and I don’t want anything of my parents’. I stay up to listen to the vent but don’t hear anything. I think about going outside to see if there is another way, but finding an excuse is hard with the snow piled up. My quest is forgotten in the hubbub of the holidays and family visiting.
Spring comes with sun and warm temperatures and Mom takes the opportunity to get some planting done. I get dragged along for the usual reasons. She directs me to a spot near the back yard, along the side of the house. As I start digging, something glints at me. It takes me a second to realize it is a basement window.
A basement window!
I don’t immediately run up to it, despite every desire screaming at me to do so. Mom isn’t that far away and is half watching me.
I spot a window looking into the basement and remember. It is painted white from the inside, obscuring any view. I don’t immediately run up to it, despite wanting to. Mom is nearby and half watching me to make sure I don’t kill the new plants.
We go around the outside of the house planting, me noting each and every window I see. Each one had been painted from the inside, and none of them have bars. I might be able to get inside from the outside. The question becomes one of timing. When will I get the chance to test the windows or to look through the paint?
I don’t have to wait long.
Another week passes and it school releases for Spring Break. Mom found a temp position and dad has the same job he always did. This leaves Grandfather watching me before and after school. We have an established a routine. He’s up with my parents to help them and then gets me breakfast. Normally, it’d then be time to go to school, but with break, I’m getting kicked outside until lunch.
No one is thinking about the basement since I stopped asking questions. No one thinks I’m curious about it anymore.
I shake with fright and excitement. I try opening the first window I noticed. Locked or stuck. It doesn’t matter which, I can’t get inside. And I can’t see through it, despite the scratches and uneven paint. The next two windows are the same. Lunchtime looms and I know Grandfather is awake again.
I meet him on the back porch, pretending to have been playing with my rockets. As he stands with the door open, my guts are churning. We eat lunch together and Grandfather takes us to the library for the afternoon. There were two other windows to check out but it isn’t going to happen today. As I lay in bed, the noises come from the vent once more. I listen very closely. Is it heavy breathing? Were those words?
The next day, as soon as I am sure Grandfather is sleeping I run to the remaining windows. The first one is as stuck as the others. But It is not as well painted. I can see shapes through it, something moves away as I watch. The last window is different from the others. It has its hinge on the outside and something is lying on the ground next to it.
A key lays on the grass next to the window, where the ground has been churned up. My head goes light. I know it belongs to the basement door. I simply know it.
It goes straight into my pocket and I run to the back yard, where my toys are. I want to look like I was playing if Grandfather finds me. Once there, I stand staring at the back door. Grandfather is still sleeping. I could sneak in and unlock the basement door. My heart races and my palms are slick with sweat. I rub them on my jeans and try the door very, very carefully. It opens soundlessly and I step into the kitchen.
Tip-toeing through the kitchen, I spot Grandfather sleeping on the couch. Soft sounds coming every few seconds. Silently, I go back through the kitchen, and stopping in front of the door I reach up, slipping the key in the lock. I turn it, and feeling its release. With a twist of the knob, the door open slides open revealing a world of chipped concrete, rotting floorboards, and an angel sitting on the stony stairs.
The angel stares back up at me. Its beautiful, argent wings open and I feel their breeze. I step inside and close the door behind me.