I will share a short story with you, which will eventually be part of my short story collection to be released late 2016/early 2017.
It’s quite a long short story so I’ll share it in sections, one part per week. Here is the first part. I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to comment and share.
Cellar Door by Carmilla Voiez
When the air creaked, my mouth gaped between my bulging eyes and hammering chest. ‘Did you hear that?’ I asked, nostrils flaring.
‘Yes,’ Carl replied. ‘Was that what you heard before?’
‘No. It was more of a rattle. I’m glad you heard it too this time. I was starting to worry that I was losing my mind.’
‘Sorry I didn’t believe you … before.’
‘You believed me enough to come down here with me.’
He was silent for a moment. His eyes flicked from left to right as if weighing options. ‘Full disclosure. I had ulterior motives for following you down here.’
‘Oh?’ I looked towards the wooden stairs that led back to the kitchen, wondering whether I would reach them in time. ‘What motives?’
Twenty-four hours earlier, Carl, Yolanda and I sat in front of a wood fire in the bijoux kitchen. Four doors led out of the room, five if you included the quaint pantry we’d filled with food a couple of hours before. I knew Yolanda from college and she’d invited me on this trip, with her brother, when she’d discovered my lack of plans for the holiday. Already I suspected her of trying to set me up with her older brother. Carl was probably handsome enough, but I couldn’t see beyond his thick beard and dredlocked hair, a comfortable match for the rustic charm of our cabin, I guessed.
The bitter sweet coffee wasn’t keeping my tiredness at bay. Yolanda’s and my bedroom was upstairs, one of the doors led to a narrow staircase, which in turn led to our shared room and the bathroom. Carl would be sleeping in a downstairs room, complete with bed-settee, which might have served as a living room for smaller parties.
A third door led outside to a sheltered porch where we’d sat and chatted until a cold mist descended half an hour before. The final door was bolted on this side. I’d peeked behind it to see a set of even narrower stairs, leading to what I assumed was the cellar. The air that greeted me smelled of fungus and made me shiver. Carl had asked me to lock it and we hadn’t opened it a second time.
I caught a yawn in my hand. ‘I’m sorry. It’s been a long day.’
‘Travelling always takes it out of you.’ Yolanda smiled, raking long fingers through her curls. ‘We’ll turn in soon.’
‘I might use the bathroom first, if that’s okay,’ I suggested.
‘Be our guest,’ Carl said. ‘See you in the morning.’
I collapsed on a single bed, let my eyes adjust to the gloom and listened to Yolanda move about in the very basic bathroom, brushing her teeth and spitting. I let my eyes close and my body sink into the soft mattress, feeling very optimistic about the holiday.
A sharp noise followed by, ‘Ouch! Shit! Sorry,’ pulled me back to consciousness.
‘Are you okay?’
‘I just bashed my ankle.’
‘Do you want to turn the light on?’
‘It’s okay. I found my bed.’
I lay in bed with my sore eyes wide open. A faint light shone beyond the patterned curtains. It seemed to move subtly, highlighting different shapes, I assumed it was the wind moving tree branches, which partially blocked the moonlight, or my tired mind playing tricks, but I couldn’t relax. I watched the window and felt as though it was observing me in return. The patterns in the curtains looked remarkably like faces in this light. Demonic faces, trying to come in from the cold. The window rattled against the wind. “Let us in,” it said. I pulled the blankets over my face and reminded myself I was perfectly safe, with my friends, at the start of a relaxing break. Eventually I must have fallen asleep.
I woke to the smell of coffee. Sunlight shone through the curtains highlighting what I could now see was a heavy paisley pattern and not faces at all. Yolanda’s bed was empty so I strode across the room and opened the curtains wide, allowing warm rays to flood into the timber room, bathing me in their light as they nudged past. The wind had dropped and the tree branches were as still as statues reaching for the sky. Beyond the closest four trees a metallic blue Land Rover was parked on the dirt track. I opened the window and let in bird song. This place was idyllic. We were in the middle of nowhere with no stress or responsibilities other than to have fun. Perfect. I pulled on a pair of jeans and hurried downstairs to Yolanda and coffee.
‘Did you sleep well?’ she asked.
I nodded and poured coffee into my mug, followed by three heaped spoons of sugar. Well it was my first cup and the energy boost was welcome. ‘Is Carl still asleep?’
‘He went fishing first thing.’
‘Salmon for breakfast?’
‘If you’re lucky we may have trout for dinner. There aren’t any salmon is this river.’
‘So what’s the plan for today?’
‘I thought we’d take a walk in the forest. Wildlife photography and exercise. Does that sound good to you?’
‘Perfect. Can we swim in the river?’
‘If it warms up enough later,’ she said. ‘The mist has cleared but the air is still chilly this morning.’
The coffee pot was empty so I brewed some more while I made toast for breakfast. ‘Thank you for bringing me here.’
‘You needed to get away,’ she said. ‘And it’s hard to get more away than this.’
I breathed in deeply, inhaling clean air. Yolanda moved quietly, camera always at the ready. She reminded me of a hunter and I watched her sinewy frame stretch and bend then hunch and squat as new movements in undergrowth or canopy caught her eye. I sat on the rough wool blanket we’d spread beneath an oak, watching her more than the wildlife, gently amused by her lack of self-consciousness.
Eventually she joined me on the blanket.
‘Did you catch anything?’
‘Some wonderful insects and a hare. I’ll have to get them onto the laptop to see how good they are, but I think it’s a great start.’
‘Will you try and get them published?’
She nodded. ‘How else am I supposed to pay for the trip?’
I felt guilty. I hadn’t paid her anything to come on holiday. Had she expected me to?
Perhaps she read my thoughts or more likely I communicated worry through my tight jaw and pinched mouth.
‘It’s okay.’ She laughed. ‘I didn’t mean that. Just relax and enjoy yourself, okay.’
We stopped by the river on the way back. The brim of Carl’s hat shaded his eyes from the sun. I couldn’t tell, from this angle, whether he was intently watching the river or sleeping. Yolanda crept up behind him.
The way he jumped at her voice made me think he’d been sleeping. ‘Not yet.’
‘Good job we’re not relying on you for dinner then.’
He turned around and grinned. His teeth gleamed between a perfect curve of lips. My heart leaped and I felt heat rise in my cheeks and elsewhere.
‘Good morning, Kate,’ he said.
‘Good m-m-morning,’ I stammered. ‘Did you sleep well?’
‘As well as to be expected.’
‘Couch not comfy?’
‘It’s okay. How were the beds?’
‘Like lying on a cloud,’ Yolanda answered. ‘But at least you’ve been catching up on your zees, right bro?’
He nodded. ‘My belly tells me it’s lunch time. I’ll pack up.’
I thought I saw a dark shape dart around the end of the line, but Carl didn’t get a bite. Maybe it was a shadow or something not interested in his bait. I shivered.
‘Cold?’ he asked.
Yolanda returned to my side and took my hand. ‘We’ll meet you back at the cabin.’
‘I won’t be long,’ he answered.
We prepared a simple feast of bread and cheese. Neither of us waited for Carl to return before stuffing our faces. It was good, wholesome food and the walk had prepared us for a frenzied face stuffing.
‘So hungry,’ I spluttered through crumbs.
‘It’s the fresh air,’ Yolanda replied. ‘Eat as much as you want. It’s not like we’re going to get fat out here.’
‘Carl’s been a while.’
‘Maybe he got a bite.’
‘I did see something in the river.’
‘That’s probably it then. Maybe we’ll have fish for dinner after all,’ Yolanda said.
Carl still hadn’t returned by the time our bellies were full.
‘Should I go and check?’ I asked.
‘Do you remember the way?’
‘Okay then. I’ll get these photos onto the laptop while you’re gone. See what I got.’
When I reached the river bank it was empty. I knelt at the edge where Carl’s ass had crushed the grass and watched the slow flowing water ooze past. He must have taken a different route back. I dipped the tips of my fingers into the stream and realised immediately why Yolanda had been less than confident about swimming. The icy chill was painful and my fingers glowed red when I quickly withdrew my hand. I saw again the dark shape dart below the surface. It was huge. If Carl caught it, that fish would feed us for days, that was if it didn’t destroy his fishing rod and escape. I stood up and brushed soft earth from my knees. If I didn’t head back soon they might assume I’d got lost. The path was easy to follow and in less than ten minutes I saw the cabin rise from behind the trees.
Yolanda looked up at me and smiled. ‘I’ve got some good ones here. Come see.’
I walked around the heavy table. ‘Where’s Carl?’
She frowned. ‘What do you mean? You were going to fetch him.’
‘He wasn’t there. I thought I’d missed him, taken a different route.’
She shook her head. ‘Off daydreaming, no doubt. I’m sure he’ll be back soon.’
‘Shouldn’t we go and look?’
‘Give him thirty minutes before we start to worry. Look at this hare. Isn’t he splendid?’
The picture was magnificent. I hadn’t realised Yolanda was such a talented photographer.
‘He looks almost regal,’ I said.
‘Yes, regal, that’s the word I was looking for. King of the forest.’
‘I saw a monster fish in the river.’
Her eyes were sharp. ‘Monster?’
‘It was huge. It would feed twenty I reckon.’
‘Nice,’ she said relaxing. ‘Do you know what kind of fish or was it an eel?’
‘No clue. It was just big. Remember I’m a city girl.’
She smiled. ‘You might not feel that way after a week in the wild.’
The door opened and Carl slouched in.
‘Kate was starting to worry,’ Yolanda said.
‘Aww, that’s sweet. Did you miss me?’
I shrugged. ‘I just wanted to make sure you got lunch.’
‘Looks good,’ he said. ‘I’ll just go and clean up.’
He came back with washed hands and clean clothes, but the scent of damp earth still hung around him. It wasn’t an unpleasant smell, just unexpected.
‘Where did you go?’ I asked.
‘Kate came to fetch you for lunch. You weren’t at the river. I told her you were probably daydreaming somewhere,’ Yolanda said.
He smiled. ‘You know me too well, sis. Were you worried?’
‘I wasn’t,’ Yolanda said, pointedly.
‘No need to worry about me, Katie. I know these woods like the back of my hand. You could say we sorta grew up here, Yolanda and I.’
‘No,’ Yolanda said.
I looked at Carl, but he had his mouth and hands full. Last thing I wanted to do was disturb a hungry man while eating.
Darkness had fallen. The world shrunk around our cabin as if the circle of trees marked the end of the Earth. We sat on the porch comfortable with our own silence and listening to the hoots of owls, the steady pitter patter of raindrops, and rustling of trees. I nestled against Yolanda’s arm, breathing in the salty scent of her skin and the musk of her hair. Carl sat on a wooden chair on the other side of the porch, watching us intently.
With no fish for supper we had dined on chick peas and sweet potato served on a bed of rice. I was relieved, to tell the truth, I wasn’t certain whether I would manage raking through the bones of a freshly caught fish, however delicious it might smell.
After lunch we had played cards around the kitchen table while heavy rain battered the roof. Yolanda had edited the photos she planned to send to magazines and backed them up on a USB card attached to her keyring. The quality of her photos shocked me. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t known this about her before. Two years as my best friend and it seemed I’d hardly scratched the surface of her complexity. I realised I’d spent too much time telling her about myself and not enough asking questions. I resolved to be a more interested friend from now on. Carl had cooked dinner, brilliantly I should add. I tried not to let the siblings’ talents make me feel inadequate, but it wasn’t easy. Part of me wanted to prove myself worthy and I hoped I’d find ample opportunity to do so over the next five days.
I yawned, embarrassing myself.
‘Have we worn you out?’ Yolanda asked.
‘It’s just so relaxing here,’ I said. ‘I wish I could stay forever.’
Silence followed, but it wasn’t awkward, Carl’s wide smile assured me.
A third yawn pressed against my larynx. ‘Maybe I should head for bed.’
‘Goodnight, Kate, sleep well,’ Carl said.
Yolanda simply kissed my forehead and with that I scrambled up the stairs.
Having seen the faces in our window the night before, I couldn’t help but look for them again as I sank into bed. They hung above the narrow ledge, poised as if ready to pounce. Reality and fantasy merged as I realised they looked an awful lot like my two friends.
I sat up, my ears straining, wondering if the heavy sound had been in my dreams or had come from downstairs. Yolanda purred in her sleep, the blanket tucked tight around her. A dream then, but try as I might I couldn’t settle. I hunted in the dark for my clothes and tiptoed down the stairs.
The fluorescent bulb blinked before illuminating the kitchen. I pushed the door shut behind me and filled a glass with water from the fridge. Heavy footsteps then the creak of a door opening made my hairs stand on end. Wearing only a pair of cotton shorts, Carl hovered in the doorway.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. I thought I heard a noise.’
He rubbed his eyes. ‘It’s okay. Are you heading back to bed?’
‘Not yet. Unless I’m disturbing you.’
‘Not at all. Mind if I sit with you?’
‘Thanks. That would be nice.’
‘I’ll grab some warmer clothes and be right back.’
I watched the muscular crease above the line of his boxers as he walked away then splashed cold water on my cheeks before refilling my glass. He returned as I was sitting down again, wrapped now in a jumper and sweatpants. Small framed glasses rested on the hooked bridge of his wide nose. They suited him, although I had no idea he needed glasses. They made him look wise and gentle like an old wizard.
‘I usually wear contacts,’ he said.
I smiled. I had no idea what to say and realised I felt a little intimidated by his presence. I breathed easier as he sat at the other side of the table, hiding his powerful bulk.
I heard the noise again like a metal door being shaken. As a kid I used to enjoy skipping across the metal trapdoors that led to cellars below bars and public houses. They made sharp, grating sounds accompanied by hollow echoes. This noise was the same, but more persistent and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
‘Did you hear that?’
Carl shook his head.
‘I think it came from downstairs. I’m going to investigate. Maybe there’s an animal trapped down there.’
‘I didn’t hear anything,’ Carl insisted.
‘I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t check.’
‘I’ll come with you. I’m not sure how well it is lit. Maybe we should take a torch. Wait a minute.’
I pulled back the bolt and waited for Carl to return. I could see the door vibrate as if a storm was brewing inside.
‘Are you sure about this?’ he asked.
‘Are you scared?’
He shrugged. ‘Bad memories.’
‘What sort of memories?’
‘I got locked down there when I was a kid.’
He shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot and looked away.
‘You don’t have to come with me,’ I offered.
‘I’m okay,’ he said at last.
‘Maybe we should find something to stop the door shutting behind us?’
‘It’s okay. It can’t lock itself accidentally.’
‘Are you sure?’
I nodded. ‘Okay, are you ready?’
He sucked in his lips then nodded. ‘I’m ready.’
I opened the door. Foul air wrapped itself around me. Presumably the rain had got down here, because it smelled damper than before and colder than a tomb. I shouted, hoping to attract the attention of whatever was there without having to brave the stairs. ‘Helloooo!’
I thought I heard a faint shuffling, but when I looked to Carl to check whether he had heard it too he just shrugged.
‘I think there’s a light switch on the right there, somewhere,’ he said.
It was an old fashioned switch, one of those smooth, cool, bakealite deals, with a hard nipple and a lever action that clicked into place before a pale flickering glow allowed me to see thirteen wooden treads, none of which looked rotten. ‘Okay then,’ I said more to myself than Carl and I took the first step.
To be continued…