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This was not here yesterday, Richard thought to himself as he stepped on the bulge in the hardwood floor. He leaned forward onto his right foot, placing as much force as he could on the raised area to test if it would give beneath his weight. It did not budge no matter how much he bounced in place.
He discovered the irregularity after spilling a cup of cold coffee that had been sitting on his living room table all day. He noticed how the puddle ran away from the raised spot, and while wiping up the mess he could feel the small mound with his hand. Richard wasn’t sure what had caused the deformation, but he thought it may have had something to do with the heating ductwork that ran against the bottom of the floor in the crawlspace below, subjecting the woodwork to years of expansion and contraction. With the spill cleaned up, he went off to bed for the night and decided that he would just keep an eye on it to make sure it didn’t progress.
In the middle of the night Richard was startled awake by a loud cracking sound. In the fog of sleep he wasn’t sure what he had heard, or if he had even heard anything at all, as opposed to having dreamt the sound. He lay there in the dark for several minutes, listening so intently that all he could hear was the ringing in his own hears. He managed to convince himself that the noise was just a byproduct of his dream state, and he was just about to drift back to sleep when the cracking sound came again. This time the sound was unmistakably real, and was a much longer and drawn-out splintering noise that ended abruptly in a loud pop – the sound of wood slowly bending until it breaks.
“What was that?” Richard whispered as he bolted upright in the bed. He could tell that it was coming from the living room. It took several minutes before he worked up the courage to get out of bed and investigate the sound. He grabbed a baseball bat that was leaning against the wall in his closet and headed through the bedroom door.
“Who’s in here?” he said loudly as he switched on the hallway light. The hall was empty and the house was silent. He slowly worked his way to the living room and turned on another light, baseball bat readied over his right shoulder. There was no intruder in the house, but he did find the source of the noise. The bulge in the wood floor had grown – so much so that it had splintered and cracked. Richard cautiously stepped toward the mound. The bulge was now about four inches high, by his best estimation, and the planks had produced a series of jagged shards at opposing angles where the separation occurred.
Realizing there was no one else in the house he let his guard down and leaned the bat up against the wall. He approached the cracked boards and stood over them. They were not separated enough to see through the subfloor. Richard puzzled over what could possibly be beneath the surface that would cause this. He glanced up at the clock – 3:43. “Well, it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow. There’s no way I’m going into the crawlspace tonight.”
Richard left all the lights on and retreated to his room, but did not sleep. He heard more creaking and groaning from under the house, as well as a few more pops in the living room floor. At the first sign of dawn, he got up to check the bulge again. The mound had grown to approximately seven inches tall. The sub floor had begun to splinter and was coming through the finished hardwood planks. However, there was still not enough of a gap to see down below and determine what was causing the damage. As much as he dreaded doing so, Richard knew he had to go into the crawlspace to investigate. At least by now daylight was breaking.
The rusty metal door broke loose after several minutes of swearing and prying with a crow bar. Once free, Richard moved it aside and propped it against the house’s concrete block foundation. He pointed his flashlight into the opening and switched it on. Richard hated having to go in there. He’d only been inside on two other occasions – once for a burst water pipe – and the other to kill a pesky colony of sugar ants that would not stop infiltrating his kitchen.
The space was only about fifteen inches high. Richard crouched down and panned the interior with the light. The area that was visible in front of him was just as he remembered it – the uneven dirt floor, the cinder block columns spaced out every-so-often. He knew that in order to see what was under his living room he was going to have to go inside about twenty feet and turn right. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before dropping down onto his elbows and stomach to work his way inside.
The musty smell nearly overcame him as he made his way toward the opposite wall of the foundation. There were a couple places where he strained to squeeze himself underneath ventilation ducts and water pipes that hung below the floorboards. The space darkened the deeper in he went, but there were occasional slivers of light from the foundation vents to help his navigation.
Reaching the turn, he pulled himself forward enough for his line of sight to clear the corner of the concrete block wall, and he shone the flashlight into the space beneath his living room.
Richard was surprised, yet relieved at the same time, when the beam of the flashlight exposed a tree forcing its way up against the floorboards. It appeared to be about six inches in diameter at the thickest part of its base. Branches that split off of the main trunk twisted and intertwined in a chaotic array as they pushed and strained against the subfloor.
“How on earth did this thing grow so fast?” Richard wondered aloud. He surveyed the tree again, deciding what tools he would need to remove it. After putting together a mental list, he turned and began the slow journey back to the entrance.
By late afternoon he had taken care of the problem as best he could. Most of his time and effort was spent sawing through the trunk at its base with a hand saw. He then cut the tree into pieces small enough to remove through the access panel. Back inside the house, he laid a piece of plywood over the cracked floor and used his body weight to press it back down. The makeshift repair would be sufficient until he could call in a contractor to fix it properly.
Lying in bed that night, just on the verge of drifting off to sleep, Richard heard another sound. This time it was not the splintering of wood, but rather a soft and velvety sound. He tilted his head and concentrated in the sound’s direction. It was low and muffled, yet unmistakably present. It was as if someone, a female maybe, were humming a beautiful dirge – a song so somber and forlorn that one couldn’t help but be attracted to it. The gradual shifts in tone reminded him of the ebb and flow of ocean waves. The sad song was mesmerizing to Richard. It evoked feelings in him of loneliness, of lost love, and even prompted a hint of childhood nostalgia.
Did I leave the TV on? he wondered. He knew he had to search for the song’s source, but was reluctant at first to leave the comfort of his bed. The song could easily have lulled him into sleep if not for its mysterious presence. He forced himself to throw the sheets off and step out into the hallway. The sweet sound of the ballad was stronger there, and even more so in the living room. Richard flipped on the light. The room was empty. The television was off. He worked his way over to the plywood covering his damaged floor. He slid it aside and knelt down to examine the cracked boards.
The beautiful song continued from just below the broken floor in waves of vocals that made no sense in any language that Richard had ever heard. It was as if the voice was being used as an instrument in and of itself to mimic the parts of an orchestra.
Richard was speechless, his jaw slacked open in disbelief. He leaned in closer to the crack and gently ran his fingers along the splintery seam. The song was melancholy yet soothing, and there was no doubt that it was coming from the crawlspace below. Myriad scenarios ran through his head as to how this could be possible. Had he left the access panel off of the crawlspace entrance? Even if so, why would someone go in there? And even if that happened, why would they start singing?
The more he thought about it, the more frightened he became. The wall clock told him it was 11:52. The last thing he wanted was to have to enter the crawlspace at this time of night, but in his mind there was no other choice. He couldn’t just ignore this and go back to bed, hoping the woman would go away. Reluctantly, Richard accepted the fact that he was going to have to investigate the singing under his house.
Outside, Richard discovered that he had in fact remembered to replace the crawlspace door earlier. Not only was it in place, but it was latched from the outside as well. Upon removing the door, the song was much louder and more pronounced. As terrified as Richard was, the song seemed to call to him, it beckoned him and enticed him to come closer. In his mind he compared it to the sirens of Greek mythology – no wonder the ancient seafarers could not resist their call.
He turned on the flashlight and assumed his crawling position on elbows and stomach. Without pausing to dwell on the situation for too long, he forced himself across the threshold and into the darkness. His nervous hands were shaky with the flashlight, which caused the light beam to illuminate his surroundings in brief flashes: a cinder block column – a bank of dirty PVC pipes – ragged insulation drooping down from under the floorboards – the dirt floor with occasional spots of gravel.
The song of the siren continued. Its volume was steady, but it appeared to increase the closer he moved to its source. There was no sign of any being in the space directly in front of him. Richard knew he would have to turn the corner to enter the area under his living room. Just as he approached the edge of the block wall which formed that corner, the singing suddenly stopped. The silence was deafening. All Richard could hear were distant crickets and his own pulse throbbing inside his head. He inched forward toward the corner, his flashlight beam leading the way.
In the instant that he was able to see around the corner, the beam of light picked up a small creature, thin and frail, huddled up on its side in a fetal position. It was the palest of white and appeared to be about the size of an average two year old. The glimpse was very quick because Richard was so startled by the creature’s appearance that he recoiled, hitting his head on a ventilation duct. He dropped the flashlight and it flickered out.
“Ow!” he exclaimed from the pain on the back of his head. But his real concern was with whatever inhabited the darkness ahead. It had reacted to his yelling with a high-pitched shriek of its own. Then he heard the sound of movement as it scurried. Richard hoped it was moving away and not toward him.
“Holy… What in the world?” he said in a hushed but panicked voice.
Richard patted around until he found the flashlight and switched it back on. He frantically swept the beam left and right until he found the creature curled up in the corner furthest away. Its torso pulsated in and out as it took quick, heavy breaths. He noticed that his own breaths were much the same.
The being was unlike anything Richard had ever seen before. Richard guessed that if he were to see the creature standing, it would be no more than twenty-four inches high. Even though it was small it did not appear to be young. Its proportions were adult-like. The limbs were thin and wiry with long, elegant fingers and toes at the ends. Its skin was so pale that it was practically translucent, exposing a network of purple veins beneath the surface. The head was small, but its eyes were grossly oversized and reflected shades of amber in the beam of light. The ears came to a fine point, almost like those of an elf. A patch of blonde hair originated from between the ears and swept down its neck and onto its shoulders. The creature whimpered and shivered while wedged as far into the corner as possible.
Richard could tell that the being was just as afraid of him as he was of it. Unsure how to proceed, he finally managed to utter, “Hello?”
There was no response.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he added.
Still no response – only frightened shaking.
“What are you?” he asked softly, more to himself than to the creature.
“My tree,” the creature said in a voice that confirmed its femininity. “It’s gone.” Her voice reached Richard with a shimmering vibrato that tickled his ears and sent euphoria sweeping through his brain.
“You speak English?” Richard asked, perplexed. “There’s no way…”
“I can’t get home,” she said. “My tree is gone.”
“You lived in that tree?”
“I came through it – from my world.”
“And where is your world?” he asked.
“Below.” Her voice was frail and shaky as if just being present in this realm was slowly killing her. “I don’t have much time. We don’t survive long in this world.”
“What can I do to help you?”
“It’s too late. My tree is gone.”
“But there has to be a way for you to get back.” Richard was dumbfounded that he was even having this conversation at all.
“I’m too weak to dig on my own.” A pause and a labored inhalation. “I can’t breathe well.”
The tiny being closed her eyes and within just a few moments the shaking and deep breathing ceased. Richard lay in the dirt chest-down, unable to believe what had just transpired. He grappled with thoughts of what he should do next. Nothing he could come up with seemed like a good option. He was too freaked out to pick up the dead creature and move it, but he just as surely did not want to leave it under his house either. He finally decided on a removal technique that did not involve touching the body directly.
He left and came back with a shovel. He forced it into the dirt under the carcass, pried it up, and dragged the shovel out from the crawlspace. He then gave her a proper burial in the corner of his property furthest from the house. He finished all of this at 3:15 AM.
Richard was unsettled for the rest of that night. He had showered and put on clean clothes only to lie in bed awake, thoroughly distressed about the situation he’d encountered. Tomorrow was a Monday, but he switched off his alarm clock and decided that he’d call in sick to work in the morning. So many thoughts ran through his head:
What was that thing? Where did it come from? Are there others? She made it sound like there was an entire nether-world below the surface.
Sleep did finally come to him. A deep sleep without dreams – without even the awareness of his own existence.
The bright sunshine woke Richard, beaming through his bedroom window and causing a dull pain at the back of his eyes. His mouth was dry and his throat was sore. A wave of uneasiness swept over him as the events of last night came rushing back to the forefront of his mind. He debated with himself about whether or not he would tell anyone about the encounter. He had no proof without digging up the body, which he wasn’t willing to do. And without that, everyone would just think he’d gone crazy.
He got out of bed slowly and made his way to the kitchen for a glass of water. The drink felt cool and refreshing, and it soothed Richard’s throat almost instantly. As he drank he stared out the kitchen window into his backyard. He could see the mound of fresh dirt at the edge of his property about fifty feet away. A flock of blackbirds had landed near the makeshift gravesite and were scouring the land for bugs and worms.
The silence was broken by soft, muted singing.
The glass slipped from Richard’s hand and shattered on the tile kitchen floor. He was frozen in both disbelief and terror. The song was without a doubt the same one that the little creature had serenaded him with yesterday, but this time it sounded slightly different. It had the depth and magnitude of multiple voices. Richard couldn’t determine how many. Five? Ten? More?
The volume and intensity of the ethereal song increased. The voices appeared to have harmonious parts – some high, some low – making it even more irresistible with its gorgeous layers. The flock of blackbirds had noticed the song and were moving about frantically in the yard. They finally took flight with a great shriek, a dense group of black dots peppering the bright sky.
Richard placed his hands over his ears and doubled over, clenching his teeth. “Stop it!” he demanded. “Leave me alone!”
The song rose from beneath the floor. Richard had the overwhelming desire to get out of the house. Even though he was only wearing a t-shirt and sweat pants, he bolted out the back door, off the porch and into the yard. The song followed him. Realizing that he was not outrunning it, he stopped near the edge of his property and turned around.
A multitude of the creatures stood before him – thirty or forty of them. They were not advancing on him, just standing still, facing him.
“What do you want from me?” Richard yelled.
“You killed our Pixie,” one of them responded. Its voice had the same shimmering and mesmerizing quality that Richard had heard in the first one.
“I didn’t kill anybody,” Richard said, breathing hard, “she got stuck here.’
“You closed her doorway,” one of them called out.
“Now there’s no one to sing her parts,” another added.
The group of beings grew more and more upset. They each shouted their own condemnations and opinions at Richard. He was able to discern a few of their comments amidst the chaos:
“Our song hasn’t been the same without her,” one shouted.
“We can’t stay here much longer,” came another.
Still others chimed in. “We need someone to replace her.”
“Him! Let’s take him!”
Richard’s instinct was to turn and run. If he could only evade them for a little while they would all be dead soon due to whatever it was in this world that they were not compatible with. He tried to dart off into the open field behind his property, but the creatures were much faster than he’d anticipated.
The first one grabbed his right pant leg, and another latched onto his left ankle. Richard was thrown off balance and tripped, landing flat on his chest. The swarm of creatures enveloped him. He felt them as they climbed onto his back, pulled his hair, and grabbed at his thighs and torso. The force of their grips was unexpectedly strong and painful. He heard his sweat pants tear and one of them pinched hard on his buttock. The beings covered him and tugged his body in all directions. Richard screamed out in pain.
The singing began again, as beautiful as ever. In the same way that the parts of the song came together, the creatures also began working together to pull Richard along the ground in a choreographed motion that suggested they’d done this before.
Richard frantically grasped at blades of grass which merely broke off in his fists as he was dragged on his chest. The song was so close and so loud that it felt as if it were emanating from inside him. With a wave of tugging, the beings managed to roll him over onto his back. The sun blinded him and panic overtook him as he was no longer able to dig his fingers into the ground in this position. He swung his arms violently at the creatures, but whenever he knocked one away there were others waiting to take its place.
“I didn’t kill her!” he shouted.
There was no response – only singing.
“Let me go! I didn’t do anything!” His plea was in vain.
It felt as if every square inch of his body was being fondled by a creature. They headed toward the crawlspace and Richard noticed that the door had already been removed. As they passed, he attempted to grab onto the side of the opening, but his fingertips slipped. The force of thirty or forty beings was much too great to overcome.
Under the house it was mostly dark with the exception of what little light came in through the vents in the foundation. The dirt and gravel were rough on his back, adding more discomfort to the already agonizing tugging and pulling. Above him was a blur of wooden floor joists, mangled insulation, aluminum air ducts, and white PVC pipes. He reached out to grab at anything he could, but the vengeful creatures eventually took hold of both his hands.
They turned the corner and headed to where the tree had been. The stump was gone and in its place was a large hole – about three feet in diameter. When they began to drag him down the hole, Richard attempted to wedge himself in by extending his legs and pressing his feet into the wall as hard as he could. The creatures continually broke him free. The song was deafening inside the confined space. There was barely enough room to breathe with all the beings pressed between him and the tunnel walls. The deeper they took Richard, the more faint he began to feel, until he finally lost all consciousness in the pitch black depths.