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His eyes opened to the sound of his Alice’s bedroom door squealing open.
Sleep tugged at him, but his parental sense demanded that he get her back into bed. He heard her bare feet slap on the naked floor boards as he rolled out of the warm envelopment of his blankets. He clumsily put on his slippers, and stumbled out into the living room.
At the apartment she had always slept fine, even when she had been a baby. It was only since the move to this house that she had started acting strangely in the night. Getting up, wandering the house, talking to her ‘friend.’ The kid seemed a bit old to invent an imaginary friend, but it was an improvement. The first few nights in the house Alice had woken the whole neighborhood screaming
From the kitchen wafted the sound of soft weeping. He followed, and was greeted by an unexpected sight. His tiny daughter, dressed in her nightgown, standing in front of the open basement door. She just stood there, looking down into the basement, quietly sobbing.
He thought it strange she had not put on the light and even stranger that she would stand in front of the scariest place in the house, alone, in the dark.
He approached her, put his hand on her shoulder, and gently suggested “let’s go back to bed, honey.”
Without looking or acknowledging him, she slowly lifted her arm, and pointed down into the basement.
Had she thought she had heard something? Was that why she was up? He let his eyes follow her finger into the blackness.
Softly, comfortingly, he said, “there is nothing down there honey. Let’s go back to bed.”
Without even looking at him, she just continued to sob and point.
Something felt wrong, but he had to put a stop to this behavior. She needed to feel safe in her new home and to put away all these childish fears. Explanations hadn’t worked, now he had to show her. He stepped down onto the first creaking wooden step, leaned forward, and flipped the light switch. The illumination shocked his eyes but fortified his resolve as he heavily strode down to the very bottom of the stairs.
With confidence in his voice he looked about and proclaimed “nothing down here honey. I don’t know what you heard, but…”
Silently and abruptly, the light went out. Terror struck, he looked back up the stairs. There, his daughter stood in silhouette, no longer pointing, but standing motionless. Eyes wide, he watched the door, as though swung by a powerful unseen hand, swing shut, leaving him in the most utter of darkness.
He bounded up the stairs, once, twice, stopped and reached forward for the knob and escape. He reached, but his hand found nothing. He swung wildly at the wall for the switch but found only smooth bare wall. Gingerly he stepped forward and continued to reach. Surely the door must be close enough to feel by now! Slowly, he took another step, his hands blindly groping into the nothingness ahead, and his feet constantly misjudging the next step. One more step, two more, three, four…
He climbed and his speed and panic increased. It had already been at least several floors worth of stairs. How was this possible? Maybe he should try to go back down? It would be easier. Remembering that the basement stairs ran under his own bedroom, he cried for his wife. “VANESSA!” His voice seemed unusually loud, as if in a confined space, and echoed back towards him from below, “essa, essa, essa…”
The echo pushed him beyond attempting to rationalize this insanity and settled any contemplation about going down. No, going down into inky echoing nothingness seemed like a very bad idea. Better to go up into inky silent nothingness.
Cautiously, sightlessly, he resumed his climb, feeling ahead into nothing with his outstretched hands.
So many stairs and his legs ached. He turned and sat on the step. Alone, he felt a solitude more complete than he had ever known. Darkness, desperation, and despondency mixed in his soul as tears began to flow.
What was that? He sat bolt upright, and held his breath. Was that a sound? He strained his ears but only perceived the pounding of his own veins. Then, distantly, slightly, maybe, like a scrape or a whisper, or just a shifting of air, sound seemed to echo up from below.
Adrenaline poured into his veins and overrode his fatigue. He rose and heedlessly dashed up the stairs. Several times he tripped and battered himself on the steps, but still he rose and charged on.
Yes, he was sure now. At first barely audible, but rising steadily, a roaring whirling white noise. It seemed to be all around him, engulfing him, drowning out all other sound and sense. Blindly, his senses overwhelmed, he frantically sprinted up until “UGH!”, falling, impact, pain, rolling, hurting, breaking…
It was late the next morning when Vanessa finally awoke. She wrapped herself in her terry cloth bathrobe and made her way towards the kitchen. As she passed Alice’s room her maternal instinct lead her to open the door a crack and check in. Her mind was not awake enough to realize the incongruity of the child’s room, dark with all the shades drawn and the closet door, in front of which Alice sat, wide open.
“What are you doing? Do you know where Daddy is?”
With an uncharacteristically serious expression, Alice solely turned her head and responded in her tiny voice “Talking to my friend.”
Vanessa withdrew to the kitchen to make her coffee.
It took an hour or so for her to finally open the door and find his battered and beaten body at the bottom of the basement stairs. Later the coroner would speculate that he had run flat into the closed door at the top of the stairs, had fallen back and broke his neck, and several other bones, as he tumbled down. The only really odd thing was that he was so bruised and battered from such a short fall down so few stairs.
Credit: Sasha Brokov