Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Basement - a short story

“You know what I love best about moving to a new city?” Laura Sentry asked as she plopped down onto the couch beside her boyfriend, arms expertly sliding around his neck. “Finding the best restaurants. Milwaukee must have some great Italian restaurants and pizza. I think I saw a Greek place on the way in. I don’t think I’ve ever had Greek food before…” She tapped a finger against her lips as the thought slithered across her mind.

“I was going to say no cleaning,” Mark smirked, his eyes glued to the TV. “No picking up for a couple weeks, at least.”

“Yeah,” Laura muttered, looking over the dozen or so unopened boxes left to sort through near the door. She sat up. “Actually, most of our clothes are wrinkled. Those will have to be washed.”

With an easy smile, Mark turned to her. “Then you’d best get on that, huh?”

Laura glared. “You are such an ass.”

“But you love me anyway.”

A smile worked its way over her features despite herself, and she planted a quick kiss on his lips. “You’re just lucky you’re adorable.”

“And well-endowed.”

“You wish,” Laura scoffed, punching him lightly on the shoulder as she stood up and happily gathered the dirty clothes. She would usually have minded any semblance of sloth on Mark’s part, as he quite often opted to leave the cleaning to her, but they had just moved in together. Moved in together in another state, no less. She was still aglow from the move, the excitement it ignited within her, to mind such a trivial thing. It was just another one of the hundred little things they had to do to get settled.

And he’s sitting on his ass, watching the game, she recalled as she walked out of the apartment, an awkward basket under her left arm. Maybe she should encourage haste when it came to putting the apartment in order, at least. Then, the next step could be initiated sooner. Mainly, Mark getting a job and resuming his role as bread-winner. The pompous, sexist ass.

She closed the door behind her and gasped as the lights sputtered for a moment, before brightening to little more than a soft glow. At least she could still see. Maybe she shouldn’t start the laundry though. If the power went out…but it wouldn’t be out for long if it did give out. It’s not like the clothes would get moldy if the electricians had to battle with wires for a few hours. She smirked at herself and rounded the black iron railings that curved down to the ground floor, then the basement beyond, where the laundry room resided.

Nearly tripping as she began her descent down the stairs, Laura shook her head at herself. What was her deal? A little problem with the lights and she loses her nerve to venture down to the basement? What did that speak of her ability to maneuver about a new city on her own? Pressing on, Laura reached the next landing, keeping her right hand on the railing as she continued on toward the basement. After one confident step down the stairs to the basement, Laura glanced over at a white sign on the door below before her attention was roused by a sound behind her. She paused and stared at an open apartment door halfway down the hall. They hadn’t run into any of their neighbors yet. The apartment complex was so quiet that they nearly felt like the only ones there, despite the parking lot full of vehicles.

Laura hesitated as she moved to continue down to the basement and the laundry machines. A soft noise…like suction cups being stuck and unstuck. What was that? She frowned as she slowly descended sideways, eyes glued to the open doorway. She could see a light within, washing over the wall. And that noise was still going in full force…

She suddenly gasped aloud as she slumped into the wall with a plastic crash and dropped the laundry basket. A laugh nearly spilled from her lips, but a shadow suddenly stood up straight in the light, as if startled by a thief. It moved then, quickly, propelling Laura into action. She was scared. Her heart was pounding, for some reason, as if her life was in peril. But it was just a curious neighbor. Why was she so frightened by the figure moving toward the door, toward her?
Laura didn’t give it much thought as she scrambled down the stairs and yanked the door open, kicking her clothes and basket into the pitch black beyond without bothering to gather it. She though she saw the top of a head crest the top stair as the door closed with an audible click and left her to darkness.

The inkiness of the basement threatened to overwhelm her then as she groped for a light switch. She recalled the dirty, unfinished basement of the building that seemed too intimate to be a public building, that seemed more a stranger’s house than part of the building she lived in. It was creepy.

Her fingers located the fire alarm. From there, she calmly ran her fingers down to the light switch she knew was just below it. Light filled the room, showing her the cobwebs overhead and the residents’ storage lockers without discrimination.

Laura sighed. She really needed to keep the door open until she turned the lights on. A deep breath and she forced herself to stoop down and pull her dirty clothes into the plastic basket. She then picked the load up under her arm and laughed at herself, moving along at a brisk clip toward the small room that housed the laundry machines.

The door was closed, which was a first. She frowned as she pulled open the door and was greeted by a man kneeled down before the doorway, eyes wide with surprise.

“Shit, you scared me,” the man breathed.

“I know the feeling,” Laura admitted, moving around him and glancing back to watch him work a screwdriver on the door knob. She let her eyes wander down his carpenter pants and smiled to herself before attending to the task at hand. She quickly went about preparing the clothes for washing and finished with a satisfied swipe of her hands. With a polite “excuse me” to the man at the door, she headed back to the basement door, her eyes sweeping over the large sign that read “Please turn out all basement lights. Thank you, Management.”

“Your welcome, Management,” she mumbled as she grabbed the doorknob, her hand on the light switch to extinguish their brilliance.

The door wouldn’t budge. She turned and rattled the doorknob. “What…?” She looked around and noticed the man from the laundry room coming towards her. “Um…”

“That door did not close,” he stated.

“Um…”

“Ah, crap.”

“What do you…” Laura frowned and looked down at the doorknob again. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Didn’t you see the sign?” he asked as he came to a stop before her. “On the door? It said not to shut it all the way or it would lock. I’m changing locks down here and I…shit, I need a tool for these antiques I don’t have with me. Do you have a cell phone?”

“Not…not on me.” Laura looked away as he cursed.

“What were you thinking?”

“I was…distracted. Sorry.”

“Distracted?” he turned away with disgust.

“My boyfriend will be down in a few minutes,” Laura offered, suddenly wishing to be with Mark. “When he notices I haven’t come back…”

The guy grunted and swore again as he walked into the laundry room.

Laura sighed and tried the doorknob again, to no avail. She glanced around the dirty, dismal space and the Christmas decorations in storage. Their own space was completely empty yet, the sole gate without a lock adorning its steel mouth. She shuddered and began to walk toward the laundry room and the only comfortable surroundings, but thought better of it. If Mark did come down to see what was taking so long, he might just close the door on accident, too. Didn’t you see the sign? Biting her lip, Laura nodded to herself. Of course, Mark would see the sign. She’d been freaking for no reason. That wasn’t Mark’s style. He was always pretty…stable. She smiled at her choice of words and walked back toward the laundry room, an apology halfway out of her mouth before she even entered the room.

The locksmith smiled, though, to her astonishment. He shook his head sheepishly. “Sorry I got so peeved. It’s just this basement, you know?”

“Yeah,” Laura murmured, rubbing her arms. “I know.”

Three hours later, and her clothes were dried and folded nicely in the basket, cold as the basement had grown with the night, and still, no one had come to their rescue. Not even Mark.

“I am going to kill him,” Laura swore, with a quick glance at Todd, whom she’d grown fond of quite quickly. “I can’t believe he forgot about me. That’s so…” She paused. She was going to say that that was so like him, but it really wasn’t. He was a lot of things: lazy, inconsiderate, arrogant, but…he was at least reliable, if anything. Where the hell could he be?

“We could try screaming?” Todd suggested.

“I am not screaming,” Laura told him. “I…God, I’m starving. I was going to order pizza. New, good pizza. I’m usually good at picking a place by the name. Screw that now. He’s getting PB and J.” She cocked her head. “Do you think someone might hear me?”

“If you start screaming?”

Laura nodded, not waiting for an answer as she walked quickly out of the laundry room to the basement door. She yanked at the handle arbitrarily and screamed “Help! Someone, please! We’ve been stuck in the basement for hours!” She screamed for nearly half a minute before Todd joined in. After a full minute, they stopped to listen.

Pressing his ear against the door, Todd glanced back at her. “I don’t hear anything. I don’t think anyone heard us.”

“Nobody heard us?” Laura asked, her voice growing a little shrill. “How could they not hear us? Are they dead?”

Todd shrugged and stepped away from the door.

The moment he moved away, they got their reply. A pounding from the other side of the door.

“Oh, thank God!” Laura cried, going up the door. “Just open the door and don’t close it! We are so glad to hear from you!” She smiled and stepped back, waiting to see the door open easily, a smiling old woman before them.

The pounding continued. It grew more fervent.

Laura looked over at Todd, a little uneasy.

“No, you…you have to open the door!” Todd yelled.

The pounding ceased then, to Laura’s great relief. She smiled at Todd and turned to the door.

Scratching began. Ear-grating scratches that rang of nails raking over the wood grain. Clawing over the wood grain.

Taking a few steps away from the door, Laura rubbed her hands over her arms. “This is a little scary.”

“Yeah,” Todd agreed.

The pounding resumed again. Incessant pounding. Pounding that gorged its way into Laura’s head, causing the panic to rise steadily.

“Earlier…when I came down here, I heard a noise that scared me,” she confessed suddenly. “It’s why I wasn’t paying attention to the sign. It was like suction cups being stuck and unstuck to a window.”

“Like…” Todd frowned. “You mean, like a wet sound?”

“A wet…” Laura tried to hear the sound again, beyond the pounding on the door. “A wet sound. Yes. A sound like…like sucking spaghetti…and…yeah, wetter, like eating. You’re right.”

“Look, this is fucked and I’m tired of the pounding.”

Laura nodded her agreement, eyes fastened on the door. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He reached out and pulled the fire alarm.

Overhead, sprinklers loosed a river of water over the cement basement and the treasures housed in storage. Laura felt a little guilty as she followed Todd to a dry corner. A little guilty, but not much. The people who owned those trinkets could have helped them out of the situation. They could have prevented such drastic measures. She hid her head in Todd’s chest, forgetting herself for a moment, then blushing as she realized what she was doing.

“The pounding stopped,” Todd announced suddenly.

Laura peered through the rainstorm at the door, straining to hear over the wail of the alarm. “Do you think they’ll find us now?”

“The firefighters or police or whoever? Yeah. They have to investigate it. And they’ll know which alarm was triggered. I mean…your boyfriend will be worried now too, you know?”
Nodding, Laura watched as the water ceased gushing from overhead, slowing into a stream before nothing was expunged at all. But if he hadn’t been worried before… Laura shook her head and felt a tear squeeze out of her left eye. Something bad had happened. She just knew it. The alarm stopped after an hour. No firefighters bust through the door. They didn’t hear anything for the rest of the night.

The next day forced them to explore an emergency shelter where they found canned goods. They helped themselves to canned fruit with pop-tops before Todd relayed their next course of action.

“Something was fucked with their sensors or something,” Todd told her. “We need to bust one of the half-windows at ground level, like above the washing machines. They’ve gotta understand our situations now.”

“It’s ridiculous,” Laura said as she agreed and consented to be the one to try it. Before long, she was standing atop one of the dryers, leaning against the wall with a broomstick in hand. Her attempts to knock out the glass only frustrated her for the first few minutes, as she did little more than bump harmlessly against the glass with the blunt end. It ended in fruition however, as one well-placed blow shattered the entire window, dispersing slivers all across the small opening.

“Yes!” Todd exclaimed happily as Laura looked back at him with a triumphant smile. He quickly handed her several towels from her laundry basket.

Gratefully accepting the offering, Laura carefully laid the towels out over the shards of glass, a sad smile spreading over her lips, as she recalled how she’d come downstairs to throw a load of laundry in the washer, a supposedly brief respite from the happiness she expected to share with Mark at such an exciting time in their lives. What if he was really worried about her, but forgot where she’d gone? What if he was frantic, talking to the police, driving up and down unfamiliar streets, praying to catch a glimpse of her?

The scene she painted for herself reinvigorated her as she scrambled quickly through the small opening and exited the basement through a bed of mud and neglected flowers. She scowled as she realized she was getting her jeans muddy, standing quickly to swipe at her knees.

Glancing up, Laura saw that the sun was still freshly risen, orange and pink hues greeting her amid the sound of songbirds starting their day. The street before her apartment complex, however, was completely still, which was strange, as Highway 100 was a fairly busy road. She found it unnerving to stand before the inactivity for several minutes, hoping for a sign of human life, but ultimately, seeing none.

“Laura?” Todd called from the broken pane. “Are you still out there?”

“Yeah,” she replied, snapping out of her daze. “I’ll come around in a minute.”

“Okay. Not going anywhere.”

Laura shook her head as she walked around the complex to the entrance door, wondering how she was going to get inside. If she buzzed her apartment, would she be met by Mark’s relieved voice?

She turned the corner of the building and hesitated upon seeing the glass of the door splayed over the cement steps. Had something happened at the complex? A gas leak? Some sort of riot?
Swallowing hard and trying to avoid giving the circumstances much thought, Laura slipped through the naked door frame and hurried toward the stairs. Her eyes widened as she noticed the door of the apartment building from the previous day still ajar. She continued her trek however, and yanked open the basement door to a happy Todd, who greeted her with a celebratory embrace.

“It’s been a pleasure,” Todd assured her through his dimples as he walked with her up the stairs. “My boss is going to have my head, if he ever stops laughing at this.”

Laura frowned. “I think…something happened though. The door…” She gestured to the shattered door, a sight that made Todd give pause.

“Well, I’m sure…I’m sure there’s an explanation. An accident. You know what? It was probably something that happened when we set the fire alarm off yesterday. Someone panicked, got overzealous, and broke the glass on their way out. It’s probably why they didn’t check out the basement. They got preoccupied, thought that the broken glass had something to do with the alarm being tripped.”

Crossing her arms, Laura nodded tightly and watched as he carefully stepped through the doorway and nodded goodbye to her. “Shit,” she murmured as he disappeared around the corner. She sent an uneasy glance at the open apartment door and quickly jogged up the stairs and to her apartment.

A sigh of relief escaped her as she caught sight of her door. “Thank God.” With a smile, she grabbed the doorknob, expecting Mark to rush out to meet her. The door wasn’t even shut all the way, however. She did her best to ignore this fact as she opened the door and peeked inside. The TV was still on, though the cable station boasted nothing but a blue screen. Everything else seemed to be in order.

“Mark?” she called softly. “Mark, Baby, I’m back. And you’re doing the next load.” She opened the door wider and stepped within. She looked around cautiously for any hint of trouble. She neglected to find anything. “Mark?”

He must have left in a hurry to still have the TV on, she mused, imagining she’d find a note on the counter. Maybe something had happened to his mother in the hospital… She quickly closed the space between her and the kitchen, searching for a message. Nothing. She grabbed her cell phone and walked over to the balcony, sliding open the screen door and stepping outside. Unable to find service, Laura scowled and practically jumped out of her skin when she heard a crash from below her. She glanced down to see Todd getting out of a truck.

“Hey, Todd!” she called, waving at him.

Todd glanced up and suddenly gaped, pointing up at her.

Standing up straight, Laura looked back and screamed. Mark was moving toward her, minus an arm, a bloody gouge taken out of his right cheek, exposing sinister teeth underneath. “Ugh,” was all Laura managed as he reached out a hand to her and moaned, blood seeping out of his mouth and onto his shirt.

Laura backed up against the railing of the balcony and barely hesitated before climbing over the top and leaping off. She wheeled her arms in the air as she fell, trying her best to land on her feet, a feat she failed miserably. Grass, however, greeted her as opposed to asphalt. Something she was grateful for as Todd helped her up.

They gazed up at the balcony overhead in utter disbelief.

“I knew it,” Todd said over and over again. “I fucking knew it.”

“His eyes…” Laura cried. “It wasn’t him. It wasn’t Mark.”

A roar of a groan from behind signaled danger to the pair as they whirled around, discovering more of the undead heading in their direction from across the parking lot, from out of bushes and other buildings.

“Oh, God,” Laura felt hysteria bubble into her chest as Todd grabbed her arm and yanked her back around the front of the building. Other zombies lay in wait in the street beyond, however, slowly shuffling toward the only live souls in sight. “They’re all over! They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere! We’re surrounded!” She clung to Todd with a vise grip as he pulled her toward the entrance of the apartment building.

They scurried in through the opening and hustled down the hallway, the sound of slow steps resounding from above and behind them.

Laura’s eye caught sight of the open door again, halfway down the hall. She watched a woman step through the opening in a bloody gown, her head lopsided upon her neck, yellow intestines hanging out before her, dripping a brownish liquid onto the carpeting with each half-step.
She looked away and followed Todd as he turned downstairs.

A man was there. A solid man, slightly balding, was pounding on the door. He raised one fist and hit the door before raising the other and doing the same. He looked up at them after a moment with blood-shot eyes and left his activity, opting to climb the stairs toward them.

“Todd!” Laura cried. “Todd, we have to…one of the upstairs apartments would be safe. A solid door, no way to get up.”

“Solid…yeah.” Todd looked at her as they backed up and away from the basement steps. They could make out the sound of someone descending from above, however. Turning, they watched the woman in the bloody gown side-step toward them. They saw a man enter the building through the shattered glass door. “No.” He pulled her backward with him and bided his time for a moment, suddenly rushing at the balding man as he reached the top of the basement steps. He kicked at the man, avoiding the wide mouth he offered, sending him into the wall and to his knees.

Laura drew in a quick breath as she charged passed the man toward the stairs, where she slammed into Todd in her fright and tumbled with him down the steps. “Shit,” she gasped as she put a hand to her head, where she felt a small cut. Pushing herself to her feet, she opened the basement door and half-pulled, half-pushed Todd through the door, as she fell inside. The door shut firmly behind them, leaving them in utter darkness. Once again, Laura fumbled for the light switch as she felt Todd stand up beside her. She flipped the switch and the room was flooded with brilliance, showcasing the cold cement walls, the rooms of storage.

“Well,” Todd brushed himself off and gazed around with her. “We were desperate as hell to get out of here a few minutes ago.”

“That was then,” Laura said calmly, walking over to her empty storage unit. Mark’s face flashed into her mind. Mark’s twisted face. She wondered if she would ever be able to think of him without seeing that vacant stare. Shuddering, she tensed as she felt Todd’s hand on her arm.

“We’ll be safe here.”

Laura smiled lightly. “I know. I’m okay.” The depressing spider webs overhead attracted her attention then. “I’m okay.” She looked back at Todd, tears filling her eyes despite herself.

Then the pounding began again.

1 comment:

Kay said...

Wow. I like it. I started reading without realizing what I was doing, and now I'm hooked.