| A resounding thunderclap echoed throughout the house, and Matt felt sure that the entire foundation had been shaken. He lay on his bed staring at the ceiling, the ensuing silence screaming at him angrily. The deep red walls of his room were covered in posters of different sizes and topics, from heavy metal bands, to the glam metal of the 80’s, to movie ads. A guitar leaned on a stand in one corner, and beside it, a black drum kit. His laptop crouched on the desk across from his bed, the screen black.
He could have sworn enough rain had fallen to fill the Great Lakes. The drumming of rain on the window had stopped a few minutes ago, but Matt could still see the clouds hanging low in the sky through his window. The night dragged on painfully. The alarm clock beside his bed seemed frozen at twelve twenty-five. His mind wouldn’t let him sleep. In the silence he almost heard the silent switching of numbers on his digital clock that read 11:30 pm.
His father had left on a business trip a couple weeks before, and was due back a week ago. He hadn’t come back or checked in yet. He could feel fear lurking like some dark plague behind the fašade of tranquility in his grandmother’s eyes when he looked at her. And his sister was worse. Their fear and anxiety shrouded the house in a black fog. It was an ongoing struggle with that fear, and he felt it was slowly leaning towards failure. Not that he even understood why his sister cared so much. It’s not like their dad had ever been around after she was born anyway. Even when he was he was always downstairs in his damn room.
As that thought crossed his mind he came to a sudden decision. After years of wondering, he was going to find out what tore his family apart. He rolled off of the bed and crossed the bedroom, treading lightly down the creaking oak stairs to the living room. His grandmother was asleep on the red leather couch, T.V screen blank where a World War Two documentary had been playing just an hour before. Just beyond her head he could see the large bay window. The occasional fork of lightning lit up the empty, dead street beyond the small world of the house, black windows of other houses and flickering streetlights. He watched her for a minute before shaking his head sadly, and slipped quietly down the stairs to his right.
The stairwell was dead black, and Matt ran his hand down the side railing as he stepped uneasily deeper into the dark. About halfway down the stairs he stopped and stood, searching through the darkness with his hands until he finally found the cubby hole he was looking for. He slid his hand in, pulling out a small metal flashlight. He clicked it on and continued to make his way down the rest of the old wooden staircase.
He got to the bottom and stopped, his eyes immediately picking out what he was looking for at the end of the beam of light. Across the large and eerily empty room, a small door lurked in the shadowy recesses of the corner of the basement. He didn’t need to be able to see it to know how the small brass knob was carved into the shape of a dragons head, or that there was an apparent random scattering of lines and swirls along the wood. His dad, in one of the few moments they had spent more than ten minutes together, had explained a pattern amongst the chaos, but it had evaded Matt. He slowly began moving forward through the dark basement, swinging the flashlight back and forth slowly.
The grey cement walls were completely devoid of even the feeblest attempts at decoration. Tiny patches of white or colour, barely visible unless you looked for them, hinted at previous decoration that had long since been ripped off. The floor had been hastily covered in some mismatching carpet to hold the heat in. Everything that had made this the basement his mom’s had been removed. His Dad said it was too painful, going through it every day, but Matt knew there were many items of hers that were kept hidden in his father’s bedroom at all times.
She had disappeared several years ago while the rest of the family was out for the day, and hadn’t been heard from since. Within a few days of her disappearance his dad had built the room in the corner of the basement and disappeared out of their lives. His sister had only been seven. The police found no leads at the house, and the search didn’t last long before it was given up. Matt had taken to filling up as much of his time as he could, trying to distract his overwrought mind. He had just begun to get a hold of his sanity again, and now, with his father gone, things were taking an even steeper downhill turn. This was the first time he had come down here in two years, and the sight of what had once been his mother’s work area in such a rundown state tore him apart again, as it always did. He mentally shook himself in an attempt to bring himself back to the task at hand.
Support poles were scattered across the entirety of the basement. Round, hollow and cold iron poles holding up great header beams that supported the rest of the house. The beams seemed almost as if they were bowing under the weight they supported. The walls were drenched in dark, almost black, moisture that clung like leeches to the cold walls. Spider-webbed cracks through the cement ran as far as he could see along the wall, fading into the dark corners. The walls were lined with medium sized boxes, some overflowing with items, others hastily and crudely taped shut. The boxes stood two or three high in some places, many of them filled with vibrant, flowing drawings, paintings and works of art, and others with various scattered arts supplies. A layer of clumpy, moist dust covered the tops of many of them.
The basement consisted of only two rooms; this dull, barely furnished and hardly finished room that used to be his mom’s hobby area, and one small one that his dad hid in while he worked. His father had only one rule that he truly enforced, and that was “Do not ever go into that room.” The room, and the secrecy around it, had been there as long as Matt could remember. His sister, Marie, had always begged their dad when she was three as to why they couldn’t go into the room. The only answer she ever got out of him was that it was his work materials and he didn’t want a mess. Matt, gripped by the gauntlet of curiosity, had tried to sneak in once while his dad was making supper. He had gotten as far as opening the door, but he didn’t have a chance to see anything before his dad had come tearing downstairs. He had gotten yelled at, lost his dessert, and been grounded for two weeks. The only insight that came out of it was that the room was very small, and had next to nothing in it that Matt could see. After that, all attempts at questioning or even entering the room were discarded, although many nights were spent on Matt’s bedroom floor as he stayed up with Marie far beyond their bedtime trying to determine what the room was, what work it was that their dad did down there.
Marie, who was five years younger than Matt, had just turned thirteen a week ago. She was currently hiding in her room stressing over homework of the eighth grade, which Matt could only shake his head at. But it kept her out from under his feet so he welcomed it without question. The creaks and groans of the house already had Matt jumpy, and when a huge peal of thunder and a jagged bolt of lightning ripped across the sky and reverberated through the house. Matt jumped two feet off the ground, his heart nearly tearing through his chest as his pulse shot skyward. He silently berated himself and closed his eyes, letting his pulse slow back to a normal pace before approaching the doorway.
He stopped, barely breathing, as he came close to the small wooden door. So much secrecy, so much grandeur that had been building up in his mind and it was all over such a small thing. Beautiful and intricate, but still small. The door itself was made out of a heavy oak; the dark stained grain ran down the door like hairline cracks across pavement. He stood briefly, studying the seemingly random swirls, curves and lines, trying to find the pattern his dad claimed were there. After so many years of standing there in indecisive paralyses, watching those intricate designs, the small lines didn’t seem so random anymore, but the pattern still eluded Matt. A small brass knob rested halfway up the door, an angry looking dragon’s face carved intricately out of the metal, sticking straight out with its mouth gaping.
He moved his hand slowly towards the knob as if he were moving through a pool of molasses, like some force was trying to prevent him from going inside. Did he really want to do this? After so many years of trying to find out, but now his dad was gone. Where was unknown, but Matt had doubts that he would see him again. The indecision lasted only briefly. He fought through the mental resistance and gripped the handle. He didn’t move for almost a minute before gently trying the handle. He swore under his breath when the handle didn’t move. Defiantly he raised his foot and kicked at the door. The wall shuddered slightly and a dull thud echoed through the basement but the door wouldn’t give. He heard a faint click within the lock after he jarred the door a second time and watched silently as the door creaked open an inch. Matt stood before the door for a moment, his pulse building up again. This was the great secret, the only thing he had never been allowed to know, and he was about to discover what it was. He reached his shaking hand up slowly, preparing to push it open.
Marie groaned loudly, and thudded her head onto her desk, leaving it to rest there with a defeated air. No matter how hard she tried she couldn’t seem to write down exactly how she felt about democracy. She couldn’t focus, her mind kept wandering off. Every time she thought she had a grasp on what she was writing, there would be a flash through her mind, a brief image, and before she could push the smiling, motherly face out of her mind her thought dissipated like smoke in the wind. She stared at the walls around her. She had begun to regret the choice to paint her walls a hot pink, and was starting to wish her mom hadn’t given her the choice of colour. Now, with no time to repaint it, she had covered as much space as she could in posters, mostly of bands she thought were cute. Both the dresser and the closet beside it were overflowing with clothes. She looked over to her window and sighed in disgust. Even her curtains were a hot pink. She looked around the room one last time before coming to the decision she had been toying with for the past hour, and slipped quietly out of her room.
Matt stood in front of the doorway with his eyes closed, his breath coming in quick and shallow gasps. He felt like he was over flowing with excitement, and yet he felt scared. This was a fear unlike any other he had ever experienced. Its branding talons clenched tightly around his chest, searing his insides and making it impossible to breathe. His knees shook slightly, and he couldn’t shake the trepidation that weighed down on his mind. Something felt wrong, out of place. The hairs on his arms and the back of his neck were standing straight as soldiers, and he could feel goose bumps rising out of every inch of his skin. Nothing moved; the entire house seemed to be completely silent. Even the thunder was silent, and the monotonous sound of rain had faded into a deathly stillness that had Matt on the verge of simply turning around and heading back up the stairs. The pounding of the blood that coursed through his veins, the ringing of the silence in his ears, were the only sounds in the room. His hand was raised; palm open and facing the door as he prepared to push it fully open.
“Matt!” A voiced hissed in his ear. Matt spun around, falling sideways into the wall. His knees gave out and he sat crumpled on the ground, his legs scrunched underneath his body, looking up at the small girl standing above him
“Marie!” He hissed in the loudest whisper he could.
“What are you doing?” She asked him in the best stern, adult voice she could muster while still whispering, and raising one eyebrow slightly.
“I…well…I…what are you doing down here? And why are you whispering” He changed tactics quickly when he couldn’t come up with an excuse that would work. She appeared caught off guard and he grinned at her. “You’re here for the same reason I am, aren’t you?” His grinned widened as he said this.
“Am not.” She denied quickly, and Matt quickly climbed back to his feet, trying to regain his lost composure.
”Liar. I can tell you want in that room as bad as me. Don’t deny it, I can tell. You gonna come with?” he asked her, making his voice sound as impatient and bored as he possibly could, as he leaned his shoulder against the wall. Matt watched as Marie chewed viciously at her lip. He knew the habit all too well; she had picked it up from him. She nodded slowly and brought one hand up to play with the ponytail that hung down by her shoulder.
“Awe come on, stop being such a wimp. There’s nothing to be scared of, it’s just one of dad’s work rooms.” Matt teased, but he could feel his own nerves beginning to suffocate him. His head was starting to feel detached from the rest of his body, floating and watching as his body went through the motions. His breath came in short and vicious gasps and he struggled shortly to regain control. He shook his head furiously once he slowed his breathing, and his head slipped back down onto his shoulders. He moved cautiously towards the doorway. The feeling of utter wrongness washed over him again, a black tide of fear and some other emotion so fetid that Matt could have sworn his eyes were watering. The darkness of the basement, cast off only partially by a single, small fluorescent light on the roof, left shadows dancing all across the walls. Grotesque designs, eerie and horrid shapes and figures paraded across the cement walls, like a perverted victory dance. Matt held his breath and slowly pushed open the heavy door. A loud, continuous creak began a large crescendo as the door opened to blackness.
The room was a black hole. Even the flickering fluorescent light hit the doorway and stopped like there was a wall. Matt felt for a light switch but couldn’t find one. A small rustling slid across the room from the opposite corner. He felt Marie grab his arm as he sucked in a gasp and scanned the room, his eyes darting wildly back and forth in the black. As his eyes slowly adjusted he began to make out the outline of papers pinned to the walls. A small desk sat in one corner, practically empty. As he picked his way across the room, a thin cold line traced across the back of his neck, and he spun around quickly, getting a metal pull chain in his face for the effort. He shivered slightly and pulled on the chain, triggering a small incandescent bulb to cast its dusty glow across the room. Matt couldn’t move, couldn’t register what he saw before him. The walls were lined with paper just as he’d thought. There were photographs, hundreds of faces staring down at him with various looks on their frozen features. Some of them had pins in them that held ends of red string that connected them to other faces. The vast majority of the pictures had giant red X’s across them. Behind each photo a file folder was pinned to the wall. The endless rows of faces seemed to glide unseen past Matt’s eyes until they crossed over the last picture by the door.
“Matt, is that…?” Marie whispered, her hand that gripped his arm shaking. He could hear the tears in her voice. Pinned at the top of the door with a large red X across her face, was their mother. The small rectangle of light that was the doorway darkened as a large hulking figure filled in the small space.