I haltingly make my way down the staircase leading me to the resting place of my fears. With every step I can feel the weak, moldy wood of the stairs slightly bend under my weight and my hand clings on tightly to what’s left of the old banister, just in case. The dust suspended in the air coats my throat with a choking layer of moist particules and I clench my jaws tight to keep the coughing fit crawling up from my lungs down. My eyes are as useless as a baby’s in his mother’s womb, so I’ve decided to keep them shut, to try to protect them from suffering the same fate as my throat. A shiver goes through my whole body, from my neck all the way down to the bottom of my spine. I could swear the old lady from down the street can hear my thumping heart, who won’t- despite my best efforts- come off its high horse.
As I’m continuing my descent, I’m trying to make sense of the situation. It has only been a couple of days now since I have started this job. Only a couple of days since that strange warning from my boss about the strict no access to the basement, policy. Now it has been a couple of days during which I could swear I have heard someone down here, in this basement. Someone that I never see entering, or leaving the facility.
Now it’s not like I’m here 24/7, but with my hours as an intern, I might as well be. I memorized the whole schedule; 8am, opening time; 12pm, start of lunch time; 12:45, end of lunch time; 6pm, closing time; 9pm, start of the noises in the basement. The schedule never changes, always stays the same. There is but one variable, the noises. Sometimes they stop early in the morning, other times you can hear them go on until nearly opening time. But no one ever goes in there, no one ever comes out.
I’ve looked for other ways out of this place, but there just aren’t any. Just that one door that lays to rest at the bottom of this staircase… I mean, there could be a time in between closing and opening where someone could slip past the tiny office I work in all night, but all the doors to the facility are locked at these times. It would be hard for me to miss the sound of the key turning inside the big old lock that doesn’t appear to have been changed in the last century…
I can discern the noise now. My face is flushed from the physical and mental efforts it’s taking me to creep down these damn stairs. Fortunately, I can now feel solid ground through the sole of my shoe and I release with relief the breath I’ve been holding in. I stand as still as possible and listen. For a moment it is but deafening silence. The air is still, does not fluctuate around me as it usually does even when there is no wind. My breaths sound like the stomping of an angry child having a tantrum upstairs while his siblings try to hide. Then, I finally hear the sound start up again.
Surprise hits me when I hear, no not the mechanical sound I was expecting, but a low irregular sound that almost seems human. Yes… human, and rhythmic. that’s what it is. It almost seems like… singing.
I don’t want to open my eyes, reluctant to the idea of facing once again the depth of the shadows that surround me. I draw a long shaky breath, then, I allow my eyelids to slowly uncover my fragile eyes. In front of me stands the outline of the door. The light is as faint as the glow of the last ambers to live in the fireplace after a long cold night. Instead of reassuring me, they entice my hands to shake a little more. I don’t want to open this door, so I simply press my ear against it. The wood is cool to the touch but evidently not very thick, because I can now clearly hear the human singing on the other side.
“Peel, peel, peel.” It’s a young girl’s voice. “Peel, peel, peel.”
I don’t know how to react. What has my boss done? My heart is beating so strongly I can hear my ribs protest as they try to hold it back from leaping out of my chest and towards safety. My whole body is full of electricity and my legs ache to carry me as far as possible from this door.
Against my better judgement, and all of my mind and body telling me “NO”, I reach for the door handle and slowly turn it, just a bit. Unlocked. I take in a deep breath, I’m mentally prepared, ready to see terrible things. I then push open the door who lets out a loud complaint. I stop dead and listen for any noises around me. One minute, two… nothing. I fully push open the door and…
Instead, of the horrible pictures that had filled my mind, I find my boss sitting, his back to me. The room is dimly light by a few candles, resting in a candelabra standing next to him. The light diffused by the small flames is not enough to reach the walls, so I can’t determine the size of the room. The ceiling has large wooden beams supporting it every few inches and the floors are of cement and stained with some type of dried black substance.
I take a step into the room and my boss jumps, as if he had just noticed me. As if it were possible he hadn’t heard the deep creak the door had made moments ago.
After trying to stay silent for so long, the words seemed foreign on my tongue.
“I told you not to come down here.”
His voice came to my ears as a low whisper.
“I, I know sir… but I heard things and I… are you alright?”
He does not say a word, simply slowly turns around to face me, still seated. Then says:
“You should run boy, but I fear it’s too late. She already knows you’re here.”
I feel sick. My stomach is twisting and turning inside my midsection. In an instant I can feel the salty sweat drops that are running down my face. I can’t breathe. I’m gasping for air, fast shallow breaths and my lungs burn. It is as if I was breathing in water with each inhalation.
“It’s a shame,” my boss continues on. “A real shame.”
I want to ask him what he means, but I can’t even bare to speak one word, when I realize something. Realize that this whole time he hasn’t been looking at me, but behind me. I turn around, I want to run out of here, but a small figure now hangs from the ceiling in between me and those beautiful, safe stairs.
I freeze and the figure moans and descends into the light. It’s a small child, most likely the one I heard earlier. I don’t even think, I jump forward and grab her before whatever is lowering her to the ground lets go. I gently squeeze her in my arms, and watch her delicate little features, her little princess gown, her shiny white shoes. She looks perfectly fine, well taken care of. The only trace of mistreatment I can find on her person are her excessively long fingernails.
I leap to leave this room with the girl at once, but suddenly, she opens her eyes. The surprise and panic stops me from making the final step outside this sordid room. Her little arms rise up towards my neck, seemingly to hold on tighter, but they do not surround my neck. Instead she grabs my throat and starts to squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.
I drop her to bring my hands up to pry hers off my neck, but she is incredibly strong and I cannot- not even with all my strength- get her to let go. I can feel my larynx getting crushed, my lungs burn up, and my view gets blurry as tears are born in my eyes. The last thing I feel before drifting off are her soft hands and those damn fingernails digging into my tender skin.
“Peel, peel, peel.”
Dammit Jen, this isn’t funny. I want to swat her away, but my hand screams in pain when it meets, no not her soft warm skin, but hard, cold cement floor. Unfortunately, that pain is short lived and is quickly replaced by the terrible ache living in my feet. An ache that turns into a sting, than a roaring bolt forcing me back to consciousness. I open my mouth to let out my agony, but it’s muffled by a thick piece of fabric, tied around my head.
I can hear her before I see her. The little girl, laughing in the shadows.
“Sssshhh,” she tells me. “You’re ruining my song.”
I see her appear next to a large pile of shavings. I assume these white and black shavings are wood, until I see her grab one, and stuff it into her mouth. She chews it for a while, her eyes shut, seeming to be taking her time to appreciate it. I think of my girlfriend, Jen. I’d seen that type of enjoyment on her face when we’re having pizza from her favorite pizzeria.
I moan, the pain swelling up my legs is immense.
“Be quiet,” she orders me as she steps closer to me.
In order to keep my eyes on her, I must lift my head to see past my feet and a new pain is arising from deep within my spine.
She sits right in front of my feet and I finally see the cause of my terrible pain. My feet… they aren’t even feet anymore. Just masses of nerves, blood vessels and muscles attached to my bones and ligaments, in the shape of a human foot. But those aren’t human feet, human feet are covered in skin. They aren’t supposed to be skinned like this.
“You know,” she starts to tell me. “I usually prefer woman. Their body tends to be a lot less hairy. But the boss choose you over that nice lady. He was trying to save her. I’m happy he did though. I’ve been waiting for an excuse to taste him for a while now.”
Her face is still and emotionless, but I can see the excitement twinkle in her perfect blue eyes as she gently grabs at my skin, that has been split open by a deep gash. I can already anticipate the deep pain to come and I try to wiggle out of her reach, but to no end.
She finally gets a solid hold of my flesh, then she pulls, hard.
“Peel, peel, peel.”