This story is by Amy Martin and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The century old Victorian, although in immaculate condition, always gave him the creeps. The two bay windows on the second story, along with the pitch of the roof, resembled a menacing stare, and the front entrance a gaping mouth ready to swallow unsuspecting visitors. Stephen parked his car alongside the curb of his parents’ home. Correction, his home now that his parents had both passed on; he had inherited the house and his brother, their life savings. Stephen spent many childhood afternoons stretched out on the sloping lawn imagining the house roaring to life and the neighbors screaming in terror. He turned as the moving truck backed down the driveway. Stephen called to the driver, “that’s good right there.” He pushed open the roll-up door. “All boxes are labeled with the room they belong in,” Stephen said. “If you’re not sure where something goes just ask.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
Stephen grabbed a box off the back of the truck, “I’ll take this one.” It was labeled basement.
Stephen stood at the top of the basement stairs balancing the box with one hand and fumbling for the light switch with the other. He flicked it. A dim light appeared. The movers began placing furniture and boxes. The vibrations caused dust to float down from the rafters and shimmer in the faint light. Stephen placed his free hand on the handrail and started down the stairs. He saw the water heater in the far-left corner and froze. There was a space between it and the wall where no light penetrated. When he was a child, he thought it looked like an opening into another dimension where evil beings waited to feast on the fears and the imagination of little boys. As he continued down the stairs, long forgotten memories swam to the surface of his mind. He stood motionless caught in a wave of old fears and memories.
Stephen was seven the first time he went into the basement alone. He was playing a game of hide and seek with his older brother, Danny. He left the light off. He didn’t want Danny to see the light and guess where he was hiding. Carefully, he went down the stairs feeling each step with his feet as he went. When he reached the bottom, he stretched out his hands and felt around, like a blind man, for something to hide behind. He hid behind the water heater in the far-left corner.
Crouching in his clever hiding spot, he waited. He knew Danny would think he was too chicken to hide in the dark. He felt a breeze brush across his cheek and strained to see if anything was moving in the darkness. Cold air surrounded him, and he felt he was no longer alone. Hurry up, Danny! he kept repeating in his mind. He heard Danny calling, “Stephen! Come out, come out, wherever you are!”
Behind him, the dark corner pulled at his attention. He couldn’t resist the urge to look over his shoulder. His eyes widened as he saw what he could only describe as a vampire. He shouted, but all that escaped was a little squeak. Its face was translucent with thin blue lines branching out. It had red, deep-set eyes and its mouth was crowded with long needle like teeth. With boney fingers, it reached out for him and was just about to touch him when Danny opened the basement door. Stephen turned to run, and with a voice louder than he intended he screamed, “You found me, you win!” and flew up the stairs almost knocking Danny off his feet.
The next day when they came home from school, their dad called them over to where he was examining a loose board on the fence. “Danny, go change and give me a hand with the fence.” He turned to Stephen, “get the hammer and nails from the tool box in the basement.”
Stephen turned on the light and looked down stairs and into the basement. There were too many shadows where the vampire could be hiding. “Please, go down and get the hammer and nails for me!” Stephen grabbed at Danny’s sleeve as he passed him in the hallway.
Danny shook him off, “quit being a big baby.”
He took a deep breath and raced down the stairs scanning the basement as he went. So far, so good, he thought. When he bent over the toolbox, he sensed something was near and looked up to see the vampire approaching. The filthy strips of rags that it wore looked like the remains of ancient clothing that was rotting off its body. Its long, needle like teeth dripped with saliva as it looked at him hungrily.
Stephen tried to process what he was seeing and was slow to react. Finally, he bolted for the stairs. As he neared, the vampire stepped into his path. Stephen put his hands up as he crashed into it. His hands sunk deep into the soft decomposing flesh of its stomach. It didn’t just smell like a rotting corpse; it was one. He struggled to free his hands from the disgusting quagmire that was this creatures guts.
The vampire brought its arms around him and held him tight. Stephen screamed. He struggled against the vampire; like a small bird, pecking and beating its wings against the bars of its locked cage, unable to free itself and fly away to freedom and safety. The vampire leaned its disgusting, rancid smelling mouth in towards him and he felt hot, searing pain as the vampire sunk its sharp teeth into his shoulder. Stephen’s screams and punches of protest slowly died away like the last fluttering heartbeats of a small bird and he was overcome by darkness.
His dad and brother took off running across the lawn when they heard his screams. They burst into the basement, “There he is dad!” Danny pointed to Stephen lying on the basement floor. Dad rushed over and dropped to his knees next to Stephen. “Dad, is Stephen going to be okay?”
“I don’t know. Help me get him into bed. Grab his feet.” They carried him upstairs and placed him in bed.
Stephen was sick for days. He screamed and thrashed wildly during a fever induced sleep. He woke once when his dad was changing his bandage. “How you feelin?” his dad asked.
“Okay, I guess. What happened?”
“I don’t know for sure. You got sick and cut yourself somehow when you passed out.”
“I thought I saw a vampire.”
“Well I don’t know about that. You’ve been having some wild dreams, what with the fever and all. I’m sure that’s all it was, a nightmare.”
“I guess so,” Stephen fell back asleep.
While he recuperated he had time to think. His dad must have shown up before the vampire could finish the job. The vampire seemed confined to the basement. Maybe it needed to stay close to the dark opening beside the water heater. Whatever the case, he knew he would never go into the basement again.
As Stephen grew up, the memories of the events blended with his fever induced nightmares. Stephen shook his head clearing his childhood memories from his thoughts. He let out a giggle, but it sounded odd in the silence of the basement. He leaned down to put the box on the floor. The room had become colder and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. His gaze fell on the dark corner. He decided that he was going to face this irrational fear and put an end to it. Otherwise, he’d be reduced to a coward of a man, afraid to go into his own basement.
Standing in front of the darkened corner, heart pounding in his throat, Stephen reached out with his hand. He had to prove to himself that it was just a corner, not an evil portal. He leaned forward feeling for the wall. In a quick flash, a long, bony fingered hand shot out and grabbed hold of his wrist. His shoes slid on the smooth concrete floor as he was pulled toward the darkness. He reached out with his free hand to grab on to something, anything, but there was nothing within reach. From the darkness a face began to emerge, teeth first. Then he disappeared.
Stephen looked out at his prey. He wouldn’t feed today. Today he wanted to frighten. He would be patient and wait until the prey’s fear escalated into terrifying horror. It heightens the experience that way, making the feasting euphoric, pleasurable. The only pleasure he felt now in this godforsaken place. The prey is near, he could smell its fear. Saliva dripped from the sharp tips of his teeth and pooled at his feet. He shuddered in anticipation of his future meal. It’s time. Stephen reached a bony hand out from the darkened corner.