Intro by @ntowl
The darkness flowed into the basement stairwell as Jon opened the door. He paused, listening. Shit! They’re already asleep, he thought. His parents had gone to bed promptly at eleven thirty when the evening news was over. Usually he did his best to get into his room before they went to bed so he could avoid the situation he now found himself in. I knew I shouldn’t have tried to finish that bonus level! It was so easy to lose track of time in the basement hangout.
A tiny night light at the end of the kitchen counter illuminated a small spot on the floor beneath it, but otherwise the room was dark and still. In his mind he ran through the short path that would take him down the hallway, up the stairs and into his bedroom. All he had to do was turn the basement light off in the stairwell and walk through the darkness to get there. Keeping his hand firmly on the doorknob and taking a deep breath he flipped the switch. The stairwell light went out leaving him with after image shapes moving in front of his eyes. Deliberately he closed the door slowly so he wouldn’t wake anyone, and tried not to panic. Nothing to be afraid of, he thought, it’s just my house at night. The hinges creaked and the latch snapped shut with a jarring bang in the otherwise noiseless space.
Stay calm, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Stepping carefully, he made his way down the hallway. As he got closer he could see the faint yellow glow of the upstairs hallway light through the doorway to the next room where the stairs were. He paused, took a breath and continued. At the bottom of the stairs he looked up and saw the light. He hated that light. The dim yellow reflected off the walls, making the stairs and hallway appear dingy, rundown, dangerous.
With his first step on the stairs he felt the darkness close in behind him, lurking, waiting to see what he did next. Another step and he felt the pull of it, coaxing him to step back and let it take him. Stop being stupid. It’s just dark, there’s nothing there, he thought. He went up the next three steps quickly while trying to keep the panic at bay.
Tink, tink, thud. He stopped and turned around. Tink, tink. Waiting, he heard nothing else and rationalised the sounds as the house settling. But he looked at the bottom of the stairs, where the dark now consumed whatever light managed to escape down the stairwell. Nothing moved inside it, but he felt the pressure of it, reaching for him through gloomy light. Instinctively he knew it wasn’t bright enough to hold it back, that if he waited where he was, halfway up the stairs, the darkness would eventually reach him. He didn’t know what would happen if it did, but some part of him wanted to find out. The sane part screamed at him to run.
Police tape flapped in the breeze as Detective Sergeant Wilkes scratched his ear. He stood on the front steps of a normal looking house. It was his first day on the job. You can do this, he thought as he stepped into the dark space. He had seen the initial photographs on his desk that morning, but they hadn’t prepared him for what he saw.
A young boy, early teens, lay at the bottom of the stairs. Blood splattered across beige walls. His bare foot rested on the last step. His wavy brown hair spread around his head. His face splattered with crimson freckles. He looks like my little brother.
The stairs creaked as Wilkes climbed them. Was he running away? A bloody hand print streaked down the wall. Was he too slow? A lamp lay on its side at the top of the stairs, its bulb still glowing beneath the shade.
On the first floor, Wilkes found the boys parents. They lay in their bed with their eyes closed. They could almost be sleeping if it wasn’t for the blood stained sheets. Never knew what hit them. The forensics team worked silently around him. He looked over the dressing table, the woman's jewellery box lay open yet it appeared nothing had been taken.
A kerfuffle in the next room drew his attention. A bunk bed came into view, reminding him that there were two younger siblings. He grabbed at his stomach as it tore at him. The children lay in their beds, identical to their parents. Six and nine years old.
A colleague argued with someone from the forensics team. Wilkes couldn’t hear them as he looked at the six year old still tucked up in her bed. Did she cry out for help? The pink patterned sheets were stained. Six years old. A half-drunk cup of milk sat on the side table.
Wilkes headed back downstairs, desperate for some fresh air. The boy lay untouched at the bottom. His ghostly white skin standing out against the pool of blood around him. He looks so much like Danny. He stepped over the body, feeling like he had stepped over a grave, and ran outside.
A cool breeze wafted across the front of the house, Wilkes stood on the front steps gasping. I will call Danny tonight, he thought, as soon as I get home.
Image from Unsplash.