Cellar

There it was again, three raps this time.

It’s been like this all day and I really have no idea what to do. My wife is standing next to me, as puzzled and frightened as I am. She’s clutching the flashlight like it’s a holy relic. I’m holding the axe so tight that I can already feel callouses forming on my palms. I haven’t taken a swing yet, because, well we don’t know what to do.

Knock, knock.

Two this time. We’re in our cellar, staring at the only door in the house we were never able to open. The house itself is nearly 100 years old, and the cellar could only be accessed from the outside. We never thought much of it, the realtor didn’t even have the key, and we didn’t want to pay a locksmith. Besides, we’ve haven’t had any problems since the furnace and sump-pump are in the main basement and nothing weird has ever happened. No smells, no sounds, no burst pipes. From what I can tell, there isn’t an electrical conduit or pipe running into the room at all.

Knock, knock, knock.

The walls were bare cement, with the original imperfections and lines from the slow drying that you don’t see with new foundations. The floor was uneven in spots and would cause a little standing water if there was heavy rain, but we just stored everything in plastic bins.

We heard it from upstairs. We had been watching TV. Well not really watching TV since we were poring over the list of projects we had to do in time for winter. Then we heard it, just two knocks. The raps repeated as we tried to find the source, sometimes two, sometimes three.

We unlocked the basement and we found the source of the noise. The old wooden locked door to the mystery room, complete with its brand new and frequent knocks. I had tried to pick the lock with paper clips and a credit card the day before. It went about as well as you’d expect. Alisa said that maybe something had come loose from the ceiling, and was knocking against the door due to a draft or changes in air pressure. That was a better explanation than I could come with, so I grabbed some loose rags to stuff in the gaps of the door frame to at least stop it from rattling. Who knows, maybe it was the air pressure thing, negative air pressure created by the furnace?

Knock, knock. knock.

Slightly quieter. I laughed about it and knocked twice on the door myself. A few seconds passed and we went to switch off the lights.

Knock, knock.

I had stopped still. I mean not just me, for a second the world seemed to stop. I felt the hair on my neck stand up, Alisa had frozen in place as well. Then she was looking quickly between the wooden door and the door to the outside. I thought the knocking was speeding up, but then realized my it was my heart was pumping overtime. Instincts kicked in and battled with my rational mind in a split second. ‘Run away, threat.’ ‘Don’t run away, it’s only a coincidence and the atmosphere in the basement is making things scarier.’

There was a magazine I read, where a scientist was broadcasting noise in sounds just outside the human range of hearing, and its enough that we don’t notice it but our bodies do, so it freaks us out. He used that to explain ghost stories, since some electronics can do that too.

While the debate ran through my head, with rational thought winning, I saw that Alisa was already over at the door, hand pressed against its splintering, gray wood. She was a scientist, so I guess the curiosity overwhelmed her while my monkey brain fought itself. I mean, she’s in the field of biological research, so it’s not like she’s an expert in strange-noises-from-behind-a-door, but she she would have a better explanation than me.

I’m shaking. Nausea shot through my stomach and I eyed the door like a dog watches a stranger.

She hits the door with three loud strikes: Knock, knock, knock.

Knock, knock, knock.

I find myself stumbling to the door as she taps out the first part to ‘Shave and a hair cut.’ Two hits ring out perfectly as though in response. She runs and grabs a flashlight, and I grab the wood axe that I keep down here. I bought it for $5 at a garage sale so I could cut up logs for firewood. Used it about twice in my life.

Knock, knock, knock.

So here we are. This is my own house. I will not be afraid in my own house. “Chop it down,” says Alisa, breaking the silence. The rational part of my brain hasn’t fully won, but the Fight/Flight had battle has swiftly been decided in favor of Fight.

“Grab the staple gun and some super glue,” I say. Alisa moves towards our workbench. I’m going to break down this damn door, and glue or staple or cut or saw whatever the hell is banging around.

Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock.

I take the first swing and lodge the axe in the door. This thing is a lot more solid than the ones upstairs, that’s for sure. I work the blade free and swing again, striking the wood true. The first chips start falling to the floor with each swing. I only pause when Alisa hands me some safety glasses that match the pair she’s picked up. The final swing ends up through the door completely and is immediately brought to a stop. White hot pain shoots up and down my side and I find myself on the floor. Alisa’s saying something to me but I can’t hear her. I touch my side and find no blood. The axe had left my hand and bludgeoned my waist with it’s handle before falling to the ground.

“What the hell?” Alisa says. I snap back into it. She’s looking through the hole in the door, backing away.

The locked door didn’t even need to be there. The doorway had been filled in with brick and mortar. A sudden red wall, practically glowing in the beam of the flashlight. Alisa reaches inside the door, I’m struggling just to stand while she unlocks the door knob.

Knock, knock.

She falls backwards, brow furrowed, mouth frozen open but no scream. She lands on her back with a horrible thud, and starts backing away from the door. The knocks still sound like they’re hitting wood. I grab the axe and use it to prop myself up on my feet. I reach down and take her hand, and then we hobble to the outside.

Knock, knock, knock.

It’s distant, but audible. We both collapse on the grass of the backyard and stare. My eyes are burning since I’m trying not to blink.

“We have to get it open, or it’s going to scare the hell out of us every time it knocks,” I surprisingly find myself saying.

“Yeah, we need to stop it from knocking,” Alisa says. She’s panting and is sitting up, knees pulled to her chin, just watching the cellar door.

“We have to get a sledgehammer or something.”

“Yes. Yes a sledgehammer, and let’s get a pick axe just to be safe. Oh, and we’ll need adequate lighting. Lets get some of those work lights, like the one your dad has? And some extension cords. I’ll find us some padded gloves and more eye protection,” says Alisa before I can even start to agree. The only time I’ve seen her like this was when one of our neighbor’s kids got hit by a car. She rushed outside and was instantly barking orders to the gawkers that made me think she was a drill sergeant in a former life. But everyone listened, and the kid turned out okay. She yelled at one of the neighborhood dad’s milling around, who kept wanting to try and help him up to “walk it off,” and it turned out that moving him like that could have left him paralyzed, or dead probably.

The next day the guy came to my house while Alisa was at work, yelling about wanting to talk to my “bitch wife.” The cops pulled up about 10 minutes later, us having beaten the shit out of one another on my lawn, both struggling to get up. Neither of us pressed charges, but we haven’t talked to each other since. Alisa felt it was a minor slight to her, but in solidarity she said she wouldn’t invite them to our neighborhood New Year’s party. Word got out about what happened, and all of a sudden I became a celebrity. The mob unanimously turned and started going off on how they didn’t like him in the first place. And did you see his lawn? He waits until the last minute to cut it. He shouldn’t leave his garage door open all the time, it looks trashy. Stuff like that. The guys patted me on the back for standing up for my wife, but it wasn’t something I was proud of. They ate up the gossip though, and treated him like shit for the next six months. Neighbors are a weird bunch. I’m just waiting for the pendulum to swing my way.

We’re standing in the checkout line at the hardware store with a sledgehammer, pick axe, gloves, glasses, and air filter masks. “Oh doing some renovating?” the check-out lady smiled at us. “Yeah, opening up a room,” Alisa responds. “Oh that’s great! I love open floor plans but my current house has too many load bearing walls. Good luck!”

I can feel the heat from the work lights. The door and hole have been lit up, and the light is a bit blinding as it reflects off the hard gray walls. I’m standing in front of it, pick axe in one hand, and reaching for the door knob with the other.

Knock, knock.

My hand instantly recoils from the door. It hadn’t made a peep while we were setting up everything, and I realize It’s fucking with me. Jesus, it’s an It now.

Alisa is standing just off to my side, wood axe at the ready. I look at her and she look at me and nods. She knows what I’m thinking. Then it hits me, she’s still fascinated by this. She’s scared as hell and loving it. I’m just scared as hell. She holds the axe and braces her stance. I can tell she expects something to be in there. That makes my skin crawl.

I grab the knob and turn it. The door isn’t opening. It’s not stuck though, I can hear a tiny rattle. Taking a moment to regain my composure, I reach in and feel around. Towards the top of the door is a simple latch. I’m able to pull the door open without trouble, but I’m starting to rethink our plan. That latch could only lock from the inside.

My side protests as force myself to make my first swing. The pain catches me by surprise, and the weak hit barely makes a dent. The wall however, does shake a little. The mortar is old and crumbling.

I take the sledgehammer and prepare myself for the pain. Swinging it from the waist reduces my strength a bit, but doesn’t make me feel like someone kicked me in the side with a steel-toed boot. The bricks collapse instantly. I have a problem picking out all the sounds, but I could hear the bricks hitting each other, some hitting the floor, and a shattering of glass. A rush of sickly air quickly passes from the room. I gag on the smell, and soon Alisa can smell it from where she’s standing. Then, it dissipates and I knock out the remaining bricks and we step inside. The room is smaller than I thought, not much bigger than a normal sized second bedroom. My eyes are drawn to the glinting of shattered glass of the floor as Alisa scans the area with the light.

It’s a broken mirror. It’s sitting in the middle of some kind of strange scrawls in a dark brown color. It’s a circle filled with shapes that look nonsensical. The shapes actually bother me to look at, I almost have to force myself to do so. There’s also some nearly mummified flowers around the circle, and used candles long since burnt down to their base.

“Hey Al-” I’m cut off by Alisa’s gasp and look up. In the corner to our right is a body. I mean a dead body. I’ve seen dead bodies before, an unfortunate side effect of working in a hospital. They generally don’t bother me at all at this point. This one is different. It’s emaciated and shriveled. It’s sitting with its back against the wall, the eye sockets locked on to the mirror. I’m not a medical examiner or anything, but it looks to have been a man.

“Holy shit,” I say. There’s been a dead body beneath us for years. I feel like a monster for thinking that first instead of feeling sorrow for the horrible way he died.

“He sealed himself in here,” Alisa points to the leftover brick and mortar, the tools scattered around. We notice the burnt remains of a book in the corner, only a part of the leather cover remains, but it doesn’t have words on it. “He doesn’t even have any food or personal effects with him. Didn’t his family or friends figure out he was missing?” Her voice trembles a bit.

“We have to call the cops,” I say. Alisa just nods, studying the strange symbols on the floor. I don’t know what they’re going to do with a possibly 90 year old crime scene, but this isn’t a normal everyday thing. “I’ll come with you,” she says.

“Yeah, the reception is shitty down here anyways,” I say. I need an excuse to get away from that room. Also, when I call 911, I don’t exactly want there to be any static or dropped calls when I explain the body in my basement.

We step out into the light of the cellar and I just feel numb. I expected a body once I saw the latch on the door, but all the other stuff completely threw me off. It looked like some kind of creepy ritual you’d see on TV. What was the mirror for? Looking into the future? Trapping something? Portal to another world? I figure we’ll have our answers soon enough, since Alisa won’t rest until she finds out what the symbols are and who the man was.

We turn the corner, and watch the cellar door swing shut. I catch a glimpse of a leathery hand, with thin boney fingers pull away from the door knob. The power begins to flicker and suddenly we’re both screaming. I don’t know what to do. I grab the axe and try and find the flashlight but, it rolled away earlier. Alisa is trying to find any of the tools-

The lights cut out completely.

I can’t see a damn thing, but from the direction of the cellar door I hear it.

Knock, knock.

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