This story is by Robert Leigh-Hunt and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Love always finds a way. Helena had said this to him moments before everything went sideways. Inwardly, Edward thanked her for the revelation. It was something to cling to. For now, they were safe down here. The basement door, an interior one at the bottom of the stone steps, was a dense wooden affair with faded green paint. It also possessed two heavy black iron barrel bolts, top and bottom. Edward had always wondered why the old man needed those on the inside. All the same, he was glad of them at this particular juncture.
There was light down here too. On one side of the heating duct that ran along the middle of the ceiling, hung a naked 60w bulb. It was good enough for Edward, Jade, and of course, Helena, his love to see by. Built around the time William Howard Taft became president, the basement was dusty with a few cobwebs.
Otherwise, it was in relatively good order and not damp. The plain stock-brick walls were nothing to look at. A few half-empty paint tins littered the corner to his right. A strong smell of turpentine itched his nose. Further on, a rickety, floor-standing rack of metal shelving heaved with trays of candles and rolls of printer paper, plus a bundle of old hunting magazines. Two cans of 3-in-one oil were crammed in there with old shoe polish and a tub of batteries. There was, unfortunately, no food down here, and more importantly, no water and a raging thirst was busy drying out his throat. He would hold out for as long as he could. As for Jade and Helena, they deserved somewhere better than this.
Jade, his old man’s young wife, was lying unconscious on her back in the far corner. She was hurt, but Edward had tried to make her as comfortable as possible. Her head rested on some carpet liner that he’d rolled into a pillow. Her dark green off-the-shoulder number appeared less respectable now; the split skirt had a bigger spilt, and it was riding up high on her bare legs. Edward could also clearly see her face and the deep cut on her forehead. Near her left temple, the blood congealed on otherwise unblemished skin, and into her hair-line. Shallow breaths dragged in and out of her parted lips.
Next to Jade, and leaning against the wall opposite, was Helena. It was a relief to Edward that she was as unruffled as always. Helena was the calm centre of the universe. “Remember Helena that I love you.”
“I love you too,” she said with that easy smile of hers that he’d first noticed that time at the Odeon three months ago. It was her, the S.O.B’s as he liked to call them, were after. God alone knew what they would do to him and Jade, but Helena? They would burn her the same way they had burned the others. Edward, with his back to the door now securely locked, slid down to a crouching position before slowly stretching out his legs. The pain around and below the ribs made his breath catch.
It had been a hell of a fight up there when all was said and done.
The S.O.B’s had organised a confederacy against himself and Helena. He’d overheard them this very evening. “It’s gonna get messy,” one of them had observed while knocking back the beer and chasers. Then Edward had caught a glimpse of his older brother Richard and the dumb smirk on his biscuit face. Richy had laughed a high shrieking laugh at the old man’s rude hand gesture. My God. They actually found it funny. Edward imagined that they weren’t laughing now. They were out there somewhere and would soon, no doubt, come knocking. It was quiet here for the moment at least.
And why had all this happened to him? It was jealousy, pure and simple. Helena had been described as “Chocolate-box-pretty” with her dark eyes and silky ash -brown hair. The S.O.B’s just couldn’t stand it.“Look at little Edwardo, grabbing himself a pin-up! That’s what they were thinking, especially Richard. “Prick,” he muttered then looked at Helena. “Sorry babe.”
Helena laughed. “That’s alright, my love.” He knew she didn’t like cuss words, and it was the reason he called the little gang out there, Ess oh bees.
There was only one way out of here, but Edward refused to think of being trapped. The real prison was the one up there where the walls were built of slanderous talk and conceited betrayal. The bars on the windows were of knowing looks and scornful rumour. They could keep it.
He would stay here even if the rats came. While he sat on the cool floor of the basement, it was too easy to imagine a big, bristling, king-of-the-sewer, rat emerging, lithe and abhorrent from out of a gap in the walls or even the heating duct. Legions of evil hybrid rodents could glut themselves, leaving only a pile of gnawed bone. It would still be a better fate than giving in to the twittering cabal of contempt. The king rat might chow down on Edward like Joey Chestnut going for gold on his seventy-fourth hot dog, but it wouldn’t pity him like he was a fool.
There was a clatter of metal above him as the heating duct shuddered in its bracing. Sweat popped all over Edward’s body. The duct had a split in it. It had moved with what Edward thought was the tell-tale jigger of a carnivorous, long-tailed mutant, galloping through the pipe-work. Maybe it was his grievous angel, but whatever it was it he was sure it wasn’t gonna be sweet Annie Rich! It must be the size of a Yucatan pig, thought Edward.
Silence resumed with no more movement from above, but the light bulb dimmed momentarily. They might need those candles, after all.
If the rats came, he would have just enough light to see the glimmer of monstrous razor teeth before they sank deep into his face. He would be in his own room 101.
Then the crushing realisation hit him. The S.O.B’s wanted him down here. They weren’t about to come bashing the door down at all. They meant to have him lock himself away. The heavy bolts were to be slammed home by his own hand. The old man must have planned this all along. Edward had to thrust a balled fist into his mouth to stifle the curse. “MUGGAFUGGA! He choked. In all probability, his old man was cheerfully downing another scotch, and asking: “Anyone seen my maxed-out wife.?
And while we’re at it, Edwardo’s “girlfriend”? ha ha ha.”
How neat and tidy. Well, he would show his old man. He’d show them all. The three prisoners would be laughing one day, and Richard, the prick, could just suck on that and like it!
A break-out would happen; however, it was difficult to imagine; Edward’s head still throbbed from a well-aimed kick along with his sore ribs.
His vision blurred along with a feeling that he might pass out like Jade. Staring at Helena, Edward focused on her gaze, and he regained some equilibrium. After all that had happened, Helena was the one who seemed untouched and undamaged. That was good to know. Then, looking into his eyes, she muttered: “Wanna make love?
“Now? he whispered back.
“Sure, why not now, while we still can? She said as breezily as if they were in a hotel room, and not in a bunker under a house. Edward looked over at Jade, still unconscious. “She’ll freak.”
“No, she will be fine. She will understand.”
Edward wasn’t about to do anything without checking Jade for signs that she might wake at any moment. Reaching out to one of her Gucci heels, he gently slipped it off. Then, with the tip of his index finger, he traced along the soft skin of her instep up to the ball of her foot and then down again. Nothing, not even a flinch.
Edward smiled at Helena, and she responded in kind. Edward reached for his love. He was careful not to damage the silver frame that she was in, and, with his finger-tips, he gingerly pulled out the sixty by forty-eight digital paper. The semi-gloss finish was the best quality yet. Placing Helena over Jade’s face, he then reached down to the hem of her outfit. At least there would be no kicking from her this time. Looking at Helena, he said, “Love has indeed found a way.”