by M. Soensou
Elizabeth has no idea when she wakes up one spring morning what her day will entail.
| She sat at the edge of her bed and stretched. It was the kind of gray Spring day when the rest of the world stayed inside, cuddled with a book, a cat, perhaps a lover. The storm from the night before was only a memory but the puddles and wet air that lingered kept it strong to those who cared.|
Elizabeth Lucille Lee was one among those who cared. Perhaps, the purest example of their kind; she loved the storms and during the storm season, kept her window open lest she miss one moment of the drama. As she shook the sleep out of her fingers, a strong, cool breeze rushed in through her open window, tossing her already disheveled raven hair, in one cool motion, to the side; easily her favorite sensation.
She stood and made a point not to close the window as her gray and white tabby, Fritz, was sitting in it, watching birds. Not to mention the sensual thrill she received from the cool Spring wind; the very wind that was actively trying to push over her high-rise apartment. She hoped the building would at least wait until she was out of it to collapse. But first, a shower.
Warm water showered over her as she gathered her thoughts and went over her to-do list. First, she had some bills to mail, then she needed to go to school and pick up a book the library was holding for her, then there was the grocery list, then she needed to buy violin strings, then she needed to head over to Ashley’s new place and look at paint chips. Perhaps not the longest list but it was longer than she wanted it to be since all the while, there was a Kafka collection getting cold on her book shelf.
“Oh well,” she grumbled to Fritz -- he had wandered into bathroom and was watching in bewilderment, her ability to stand such an amount of water -- the acoustics of the shower lending her voice an infinitely more sinister tone. “Kafka will be here next weekend. Knowing Ashley, I should cherish her company while I have it.” She felt a tinge of resentment for Ashley’s latest stunt; leaving with one man and returning with another.
As she spoke to Fritz, her cell phone rang. No doubt it was Ashley, overwhelmed by the sheer number of paints that she absolutely loved. She could wait; she would get over it by the time Elizabeth made it to her place. She already hated the idea of Ashley painting one minute detail in the beautiful Victorian home she and future-ex-husband had moved into.
She turned off the hot water and basked in the stark contrast between the warm steam and the cold air that was rushing in behind her. After a few still moments, she picked up her conversation, continued her preparations, -- clothes, breakfast, mail, grocery list, money -- and she was gone.
The day breezed by. Once the mail was taken care of, everything else fell apart; The book never came in and she was pretty sure she mixed up a few papers at home because when she went to pull out her grocery list, she found Ashley’s new e-mail address in its place. She remembered specifically that she needed cat food but when she walked into the grocery store and looked for her usual brand, she was met with the disappointment of it being out of stock. Beyond that, the music store was closed for renovations. The disappointment that was her afternoon was effectively freed up so she decided to go to her favorite coffee shop and wait until she absolutely had to meet Ashley. However, regardless of her plans, after the hour spent running from disaster to disaster, she got another call from Ashley.
“Hey, Ash,” Elizabeth said into the receiver. She was, more or less, proud of herself for masking her chagrin.
“Buffy!“ Ashley called, anxiously using the one name Elizabeth hated more than any other except “Lucy“; they were tied at the forefront of the list. “You need to come over right now! Like, seriously!” Ashley’s frantic response filled Elizabeth with a combination of humor and concern. With Ashley, it was always hard to tell which one was appropriate.
“Alright, girl. I’ll be there in a bit. What do you drink these days? I’m right by Café Flasque.”
“I don’t think I could handle coffee at the moment. I’m soaring right now.” The line went dead. Elizabeth found it amusing but knowing Ashley, this could be any number of things ranging from fabulous to horrifying. She decided to hurry; that included abandoning any prospect of getting a latte.
Before long, she pulled into the driveway of a restored Victorian home -- one that took her breath away every time she saw it -- and turned off her engine. Without the coffee break she had expected, there was nothing to separate her disastrous morning from her potentially tedious afternoon so she needed a moment to gather her thoughts before Ashley inevitably ran out to greet her and pull her into the empty house.
“Buffybuffybuffyyou’llneverbelievethis! It’s so…” The unpredictably excitable Ashley fought for words as she exploded through the incredible double front doorway. She hated to admit it but Ashley could be compared to a crystal ball; stunningly beautiful to look at but, when held, the fragility of it implores you to throw in onto the floor simply to see if you could bear to watch it break. And you would, were it any less valuable to you. Elizabeth drudgingly stepped out of her car and walked to where Ashley was hopping in place on the front porch.
“What’s going on?” Elizabeth asked as calmly as she could. Ashley giggled and wrapped her thin, smooth hand around Elizabeth’s before running inside. She pulled her through the entry, past a spiral staircase, and into a hallway before she could get a bearing on her location.
“Close your eyes,” Ashley bubbled, guiding Elizabeth by the hand down the hallway. Elizabeth fought to keep her balance as Ashley moved a little faster than she was comfortable moving with her eyes closed. “Now open them,” Ashley commanded with a hyper vibrato to her voice.
Elizabeth opened her eyes to a hole in the wall. “This is what you are so excited about?” Elizabeth asked. Ashley seemed about ready to explode.
“Yes!” She said, her voice a little higher than she, perhaps, intended. “The movers were moving in a vanity and, I guess, someone slipped or something. Part of the mirror frame punched a hole in the wall!”
“That’s exciting?” Elizabeth asked. Sure, Ashley was excitable but this was simply bizarre.
“Yes!” Ashley declared. “Take a look inside,” she commanded. Elizabeth looked beyond the fray of wallpaper into the hole and moved from side to side in an effort to use the light from the hall to see in. She couldn’t see anything but she felt a slight breeze against her eye. Just then, it dawned on her that the darkness meant that light was traveling farther in than the few inches it should before hitting the wood or brick or whatever was supposed to be there. The coolness of the air against her eye combined with the darkness beyond the portal gave her a sense of calm as though were there a world on the other side, it was a much more peaceful place. It felt like silence.
“I don’t see anything,” she said. She held her eye to the hole, hoping that the little amount of light seeping in was enough for her eyes to adjust to. She eventually saw a vague outline of, possibly, a set of stairs. Ashley was nearly vibrating with excitement next to her.
“It’s a secret staircase!” Ashley exclaimed as if Elizabeth couldn’t have concluded that on her own. Elizabeth couldn’t help but borrow some of Ashley’s excitement.
“At the end of a secret staircase-”
“Is a secret cellar!” Ashley said, trying to conceal her excitement. She was doing a poor job of it.
“A secret something,” Elizabeth conceded.
“Here. Use my flashlight,” Ashley said, handing Elizabeth a flashlight that she had picked up from the floor. She must have dropped it in the excitement of discovery and forgot about it until happening to look at it that very moment. Elizabeth shined it through the hole and tried her hardest to look around it. She could barely see into, but to nowhere near the bottom of, what was now obviously, the staircase. Everything was caked in dust, however, so she couldn’t be sure of anything she saw.
“Wow, Ashley. Wow.”
“I know, right?” Ashley’s excitement displayed no signs of subsiding. Elizabeth pulled away from the quiet, timeless scene behind the wall and looked at Ashley, wide-eyed.
“We have to take this wall down,” Elizabeth said finally. She knew Ashley would disagree. Elizabeth would ask her why she was so excited one minute and so nervous the next. She would probably say they needed to talk to What’s-his-face first. She always had an excuse. In the end, they would take that wall down. Elizabeth would probably have to convince him herself but it would happen.
“Honestly, I don’t know how you got to be known as the impulsive one,” Elizabeth said to Ashley’s confusion.
“What inspired that?” Ashley asked. Elizabeth realized they hadn’t had that conversation.
“Oh…sorry. Well, let’s get to work on this wall.” Ashley nodded to Elizabeth’s surprise.
“We should have a hammer or two around here somewhere,” Ashley said, primarily to herself. She must have noticed the confused look on Elizabeth’s face. “I’ve changed a lot in the last five years,” she said. “You were always right, you know.” She smiled and left the room. That was a change Elizabeth had never expected.
Using the hammers, they began busting through the drywall, the whole time, getting reacquainted. It was somewhat of a disappointment to Elizabeth that they had so little in common anymore. Ashley had grown much more social and left much of the thinking to Him. Elizabeth wondered if that was why she had left Curtz. Curtz had expected her to contribute to conversations when he was speaking to colleagues. She really could, at the very least, put on the illusion that she had a great mind when she wanted to but, in Elizabeth’s few, very short experiences with the new husband, he simply had no interest in her mind; almost as if he discouraged it. Elizabeth didn’t like concentrating on it; Ashley could have her life.
There were still thinly spaced studs left when the two of them were finished with it so they still couldn’t reach their new discovery but with the staircase drenched in light, Elizabeth could barely see the bottom. It appeared there was a door with a red color to it and a design obscured by thick layers of dust. That would change as soon as Elizabeth could get through the studs in the wall.
“Now what?” Ashley asked, a hint of anxiety, creeping into her already anxious voice. She was covered in dust, standing in a pile of drywall, shards of wallpaper, and dust seemingly on the verge of crying. Elizabeth knew exactly how she felt. With lungs and tear ducts full of drywall dust and a torn up wall laying at their feet, having stopped to breathe, knowing that they couldn’t reverse it and there was no way to continue, the situation felt a little overwhelming. Elizabeth felt she should have known better than to do this to Ashley but the curious stairway behind the wall was too tempting to pass up even if it did mean inducing an anxiety attack in her friend.
“I guess we try to clean this mess up,” Elizabeth suggested. She was pretty sure that by the time they got the drywall up, she’d have a plan.
As they swept and scooped, it was Ashley that came up with a plan. “Oh, of course!” Ashley exclaimed. “I can call Jonah.”
Elizabeth was definitely uncomfortable with the idea but tried to imitate indifference.
“Do you guys ever speak much?” Ashley asked. Elizabeth shrugged.
“We see each other around,” she replied. “Not often but, you know, life gets in the way,” she added. “Of course, life would get in the way a lot less if he was happy to just be friends,” she remarked in less than a whisper, fairly convinced that Ashley couldn‘t hear; Ashley was busy calling her brother anyway.
It was barely an hour before Jonah, the other twin, passed through Ashley’s door. Like his sister, he was slight with blond, wavy hair and greenish eyes but, aside from a few vague physical differences, he kept his hair short. Of course, he had inadvertently shaped himself considerably; in his line of work, he couldn’t avoid it, try as he might. Ashley led him to their progress, chatting the entire time. Despite herself, Elizabeth couldn’t help finding amusement in their polarity. He just looked nervous and nodded.
He carried with him a large, black, hard plastic case, the contents of which, Elizabeth could only guess at. When their eyes met, an uneasy feeling engulfed her. All she could see in them was the hurt that he felt every time she said, “Jonah…no. I just don‘t see you like that.” Or, perhaps a number of other pains had twisted his eyes into those of sadness. Then again, the effect could have come from squinting far too much. She hoped his feelings had subsided some at least. If they were to work together, she couldn’t have him loving her.
“Elizabeth,” he said upon finally reaching her. His eyes betrayed a sense of unfinished business. He was smiling but she knew better than to believe his façade. When he said her name, he was really saying: “Elizabeth, you are really great. I’m sorry but I can’t change how I feel.”
“Jonah.” She tried her hardest not to seem too cold but showing the least bit of interest in his presence could prove disastrous.
“How are you?” He asked, his eyes were warm, creased, concerned, just as she remembered.
“I’m…” She trailed off, betraying her complete uneasiness in the situation. Ashley cocked her head and squinted her eyes. “I’m alright,” Elizabeth finally finished.
“I feel like I’m missing some sort of nuance,” Ashley commented, turning all eyes on her. Such was her primary talent. Elizabeth blinked twice, completely baffled by Ashley’s ignorance. Could she really be that clueless? Jonah snorted, looking to Elizabeth with bewilderment scrawled across his face. As his eyes had turned to her, Elizabeth looked away, not particularly desiring a commonality with him.
“I should look at this wall,” he said finally and set his black case down. Turning his attention to the wall, his face changed entirely and Elizabeth was fascinated by his transmutation from Jonah the heart-broken friend to Jonah the competent jack of all trades.
his hands moved as he observed the studs and contemplated the best course of action. Eventually he spoke.
“This wall looks young. My guess is it was hastily put up. If you ask me, it‘s probably not bearing any weight whatsoever. It will be easy enough to take whatever we want. I bet it’s not even part of the structure,” he said and looked up near the ceiling. “See?” He asked pointing. “This is merely a frame. It’s old, mind you -- so old that the previous owners probably had no idea it was like this -- but it’s not as old as the house. It’s bolted to the ceiling. This was definitely done by amateurs sometime after World War II. Dry wall was rarely used before then. That was a dead giveaway. Then again, the spacing of the studs was as well…then again, again, the use of studs in the first place was as well…as well. This won’t be a problem. I can cut through these studs, no sweat. I’ll just cut a few so you can get through. That’s all you need, right?” Ashley nodded. He opened his case and removed, what Elizabeth assumed was, an electric hacksaw.
A few cuts later, Jonah was able to pry the studs loose so Elizabeth could slip down onto the first step. Her lungs filled with dust as it enveloped her causing her to cough and stir more up which continued the cycle.
“This dust probably hasn’t moved since the fifties,” Jonah remarked, pulling the protective goggles from around his neck and handing them to her. He found a mask in his hacksaw case as well. “You’ll need these,” he said. Elizabeth pulled them both over her face and set out to uncover the mysterious door. After a few steps, she saw a light appear in front of her, half blocked by her body. No doubt, Jonah was shining a flashlight over her shoulder.
At the bottom of the steps, Elizabeth approached the red door with the dust-caked insignia. With both hands, she pulled off fluffy handfuls of dust. It reminded her of once when she had dried two loads of laundry before emptying the lint trap. The main difference was the excitement she felt while pulling the dust away. An empty lint trap never left her wondering what was on the other side. Laundry had never given her such a feeling of mystery. Possibly the most pronounced difference, however, was that her lint trap didn’t come equipped with occult symbols. When she pulled the last glob of dust away from the wooden door, three familiar spikes became obvious. She was staring right into a triquetra.
“A tri-wha-wha?” Ashley asked once Elizabeth yelled back her discovery. She wasn’t really sure how she knew that, herself.
“Triquetra,” Jonah repeated. “Something to do with the Godhead.”
“Each spike represents a different member of the trinity. Like God the father, God the son, and the holy ghost. They are knotted together with a circle around it to show unity,” Elizabeth said. She wasn’t worried about checking her facts; Ashley would forget she said anything soon anyway.
Before she knew it, Jonah was standing directly behind her, peering over her shoulder.
“So…are we going in?” He asked, a smile evident in his tone. She nodded.
“As soon as I can find a door handle or something,” she said, patting down the edge of the thick wooden door. Jonah pushed her gently aside, handed her his flashlight, and grabbed the ornamental brass knob protruding from within the Triquetra in the dead center of the large door. It wasn’t until that moment that Elizabeth noticed a second triquetra inside of the larger one, or for that matter, the creature on the doorknob. Whether it was a dragon or a lizard, she could not quite be sure. Wrapped around the outer rim of the knob was a serpent. She wondered if those two images belonged together. The something struck her.
“Wait,” she said, rummaging in her pocket for her cell phone. Using the built in camera, she took a rather terrible picture of the red door and gave up after a few more attempts.
“I have a camera in the truck. I can take some pictures after we’re done,” Jonah offered.
“Ok,” she agreed. He put his hand back on the antique handle and pulled.
After a few tugs, the door groaned. Elizabeth could see Jonah’s face turn slightly red in the indirect light of the flashlight. But it could have just as easily been a reflection from the red wood. The hinges screamed as the door, unopened for ages, flew wide for them. Elizabeth heard a loud, prolonged shriek as dust clouded around them, disturbed by a new draft, and seemed to take forever to settle. Chills ran up her back, no doubt, caused by the unearthly cacophony their actions provoked. She never stopped to ponder the cause of the shriek, she only hoped it was due to the decades old wind that rushed past the red, splintered doorframe.
When the drama had ended, Jonah shined his flashlight through the door. The light seemed to dissolve less than ten feet ahead of him.
“That’s unusual,” he commented. Elizabeth nodded her head in agreement. She held her hand through the door and felt the atmosphere inside. It was cold and gave the impression of emptiness, furthering her confusion concerning the light and its inability to pierce the darkness. She wondered if, perhaps the very emptiness of the place was self-perpetuating.
“It’s cold,” she commented. The rest of her thoughts, she kept to herself; she had a feeling that hearing them out loud would verify them and the prospect of that made her nervous
“Yeah, it is,” Jonah replied. He was squinting through the door at his hand when Elizabeth looked over.
“What do you think this is?” She asked. Her own theories involved Satanic shrines and orgies.
“I don’t know. The door is just riddled with symbols. I mean…they must be symbols, why else would you put a lizard on a doorknob surrounded by a double Triquetra?”
“I know,” Elizabeth said, more or less, under her breath. She turned back to Ashley, frantically gesturing for her to come down.
“I need to go up and get the spotlight from my truck. I bet it will help,” Jonah said, turning to go back up the stairs. Elizabeth followed. Granted, she would rather be up there with him than down there with him but down there without him was debatably her least favorite option. It was also debatable that a dread of the room behind the red door was the least of her concerns. Her curiosity dulled the danger almost as effectively as Morphine would dull the pain of surgery. It was the loneliness with Jonah, however trivial, that bothered her. She thought, perhaps, she was being childish at times but her alone time with him over the past few years was becoming awkward.
Torn between the childish fear of being uncomfortable and the tangible fear felt at the bottom of the stairs seemed to be a ridiculous situation for Elizabeth to find herself in; especially since he was, for the most part, behaving. She closed her eyes and told herself to focus on the task. That was the only way to eliminate both concerns. For a brief moment, she hated herself for being so absurd.
Jonah returned, a spotlight in one hand and an acetylene torch in the other.
“What don’t you have in there?” Ashley asked, clearly amused.
“30 pounds of coke,” was his answer. “I already made that stop.” Ashley laughed but Elizabeth found his humor more or less obnoxious.
“What do you need the torch for?” Elizabeth asked.
“I have a theory,” was his only response. She shrugged.
“I guess we should be on our way down,” she suggested. “Come on Ashley. This time, you have to come too.”
“No, you’ll be fine without me.”
“Come on,” Elizabeth insisted, shooting her a grave look.
“Yeah, yeah,” Ashley grumbled, nervously, fitting a mask over her face.
By the light of Jonah’s spotlight, the unnaturally chilled air looked inhabited by millions of tiny, ghastly orbs. It was a preposterous notion, Elizabeth realized, as orbs only show up on film. Still, the prospect filled her with too many contradicting emotions.
“Huh,” Jonah muttered, as his light fell upon a discoloration of the wall. It was a dark streak against the brick backdrop. The discoloration was concentrated between bricks, running from the streak to the floor and thickening at the top of each brick. The streak itself was thick and abrupt with a few spatters sporadically thrown along one edge. It seemed black to Elizabeth but Jonah appeared to feel otherwise. “Is that…” the question was on his tongue but refused to exit his mouth.
“I doubt it. Wouldn’t it be gone by now?”
“60 years isn’t that long to a blood stain,” Jonah remarked. It surprised Elizabeth that Ashley had been quiet the entire time.
“Ashley?” She inquired. There was silence. “Ashley Belle Harker-” She tried her hardest to remember Ashley’s latest married name. Somehow, forgetting it took the authority out of her voice.
“Storm,” Jonah offered. “Harker-Storm,” he said, shining the spotlight back to where Ashley was last seen standing. She was frozen in the doorway. Elizabeth had forgotten how poorly Ashley handled the dark. She walked over and lead her back up the stairs, feeling defeated.
“Just stay up here. Jonah and I have this under control,” she said and turned back to the stairs.
“I felt something touch me. We weren’t alone in there,” Ashley insisted, her face was pale compared to its usual golden glow.
“Probably a rat,” Elizabeth said and descended the stairs, joining Jonah before Ashley could put her thoughts enough together to speak.
Jonah was combing the ground with his spotlight, perhaps scanning for more bloodstains when Elizabeth returned. Regardless of his intentions, that’s what he was illuminating. her stomach churned at the sight. Blood was everywhere.
“Elizabeth,” he whispered. Her ears perked. He was about to say something really creepy, she was sure.
“Something really bad happened down here.” She was shocked when his words came in the order they did.
“What tipped you off? Was it the brick walls…or the blood?” He laughed softly.
“I’ve missed that,” were his next words. Elizabeth had been right. She had only been wrong about the timing. Her silence must had disturbed Jonah. “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to bother you.” He sighed. “I really am sorry about my actions. I was only listening to my heart. Why can’t we just put it behind us. Am I that repulsive?” It seemed like he had been waiting so long to say that, the perfect opportunity never arising.
Her heart was tinged with guilt. She really was effecting him in terrible ways.
“I’m sorry,” she said as he opened his mouth to say:
“Besides, I don’t feel that way anymore.” Elizabeth heard what he said and perhaps even understood what he meant by it but -- and for this, she felt very childish later -- it came as somewhat of a blow to her self-esteem.
“Let’s just concentrate on the task ahead of us,” she said, trying not to get mad at him. He nodded in agreement and by the dim light radiating from the main stream of his spotlight, they attempted to observe the room while avoiding eye contact.
Later, after their first of, possibly, many expeditions into the cellar, Jonah sat in the middle of the empty floor in the room near the cellar entrance. He had a large sheet of graph paper laid out before him, attempting to recollect the dimensions he’d estimated and the placement of various accoutrements. The torch sat next to him along with the spotlight and the black plastic case.
“Do you remember exactly where the table was?” He asked Elizabeth. He was referring to the wooden table; the one equipped with shackles, bowed down in the middle with a dark stain concentrated where it was bowed; the item that convinced them to turn around until they had proper lighting. In the light, it would be gross and, no doubt, creepy but in the dark, it was simply chilling.
“Close to there, I think,” Elizabeth suggested, pointing near the doorway. They really had not gotten too far inside. Jonah nodded. She noticed that he could be really pleasant to work with when he wasn’t trying to win her over. Or was that precisely what he was doing? She suddenly got irritated with him for, admittedly, no reason. She felt kind of dumb about that once it passed as suddenly as it approached.
“So, what do you think we’ll have to buy?” Ashley asked, eager to light up the cellar.
“Doubtfully anything. I have extension chords and flood lights,” Jonah responded. “I didn’t see any light switches down there. I guess whoever dry walled over the entrance to the staircase had done so to avoid looking at a room that hadn’t been used since the house was built.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Elizabeth said. “You saw the table. That was used for something until they were stopped. Perhaps it was boarded up just before being sold. Maybe this place belonged to a family for so long before going to a buyer outside of the family. They could have walled over it when they sold.”
“Perhaps.” Elizabeth could tell Jonah was unhappy with any of the theories proposed. “None of this sounds right. You wouldn’t just leave a bloody room down there with a little drywall standing between an unsuspecting homeowner and your nasty secret.” Elizabeth saw his eyes twitching; something he did while thinking. He stood up and looked for Ashley. She was leaning against a nearby wall. “Is this place on the historical registry?” Jonah asked. Ashley shrugged.
“I don‘t know.”
“No historical register…Any permit records? Anything about the previous owners of this place?” Ashley shrugged. “You don’t know anything about your home at all?”
“Steve did all of the paperwork. I just live here,” Ashley admitted. Steve is his name! Elizabeth noted. It had been getting increasingly harder to mention him without saying the name she couldn’t remember and “Future-ex-husband” seemed inappropriate. Jonah put his face into his calloused palms.
“Really?” Sarcasm was evident in his voice. Ashley must have picked up on it but Elizabeth had no way of telling with the two of them. “Whatever. I’ll ask Steve when he gets here. Where is he, anyway? I thought he was an office guy or something. They don’t work weekends, right?”
“He’s back at our hotel…working. Then he leaves tonight on business.” Jonah’s brow furrowed. Elizabeth could tell he wasn’t fond of Steve. “I can call him.”
“Yeah, do that. Let me talk to him also.” Ashley left the room, pulling her cell phone out of her pocket as she did. He looked to Elizabeth. “You should see his business card,” he said and chuckled. Elizabeth couldn’t hide her curiosity.
“What does he even do anyway?” She asked.
“Hell if I know. His type is so generic,” Jonah whispered, reminding Elizabeth of the friend she remembered from high school. The catty, artistic, warm Jonah she always wanted back. Perhaps, forgiveness -- or the appearance of forgiveness -- was all he needed to revert back to his old self. She laughed. Whether it was at his comment or at her waxing comfortability with him, she wasn’t sure.
Ashley returned with her phone closed in her hand.
“He doesn’t want to talk about that stuff right now,” she said. Her voice was somewhat annoyed but there was no telling who she was annoyed at.
“Huh.” Jonah said and went back to his graph paper. Elizabeth leaned somewhat over his shoulder to watch his progress but caught herself falling into an old habit -- before she rested her chin on his shoulder -- and put a bit more distance between them. “There’s no surprise there,” he uttered softly. Elizabeth heard but wasn’t sure if Ashley did. When she looked up to Ashley for confirmation, she wasn’t there. She must have heard.
“Oh, come on, Jonah,” Elizabeth said, watching her tone as she caught it warming up.
“I don’t like him. I’m not going to hide it. He’s kept her in the dark about everything going on here like she’s some dumb puppet. Their relationship is so…off-balance. She should have never left Curtz. I still don’t know why she did.” Jonah ended his tirade with a huff and tried to return his calm. Elizabeth was somewhat shocked by his sudden anger. It was so unusual for him.
“Well, you chased Ash off.”
“She’ll be back,” he said, turning back to his map. “Do you want to go back down there today? Or wait until tomorrow? I have some work to do but I could come over afterward. I won’t lie though. After work, I’m practically useless. Today, I just had some paperwork to do.” Elizabeth considered for a moment.
“Let’s do it,” she said.
“Alright! Come help me unload some stuff from my truck.” He was clearly excited. Elizabeth couldn’t help but to feel the same.
As they got up and set about bringing in the equipment, Elizabeth wondered how Jonah was feeling. Within an hour, she had come full circle with him. She needed to remember how everything had started in the first place. Give Jonah an inch and he takes a mile.
They unloaded four floodlights, two floodlight stands, yards upon yards of extension chord, and a power strip.
“I can’t imagine needing more than this,” Jonah commented as they headed back to the house, arms full.
“How do you think Steve will take this?” Elizabeth asked, forgetting herself for a moment.
“Long answer; he’ll probably shit a brick, tell the both of us to never set foot in his house again and try to make us pay to put a new wall there. Short answer; Who cares? He needs this,” Jonah replied. Elizabeth felt somewhat uneasy about what position this could put Ashley in but remembered it was her idea in the first place. She’d know her husband better than either of them, right?
Ashley met them at the door, glaring at Jonah. He slid past her without a word, found the hallway where they were set up, and set his gear down at the opening of the hall. Elizabeth caught Ashley’s eye and attempted to convey apologies. She wasn’t sure what for but with the Harker twins, little there was to understand about their emotions. They came and went, often times, the source being unknown to the host. It was for that reason, she felt that she should have known better than to spurn Jonah for his admiration of her. She considered officially apologizing but there was no way she could say it politely so she controlled the urge.
While she was distracted by Ashley’s feelings, Jonah had removed a few more studs. He plugged the extension chord into the wall and carried the stand and two of the floodlights to the landing at the bottom of the stairs. Elizabeth followed, all the while wondering how she fell into that habit.
When she caught up to him, he grinned and pushed the large red door open. It slid away silently, catching Elizabeth off guard; where was the hellish scream or the gale from an era past? Where was the drama?
The door was subdued and no longer impressive. Jonah took a step across the threshold from the warm, lively home to the chilly, deserted cellar. And Elizabeth, as became her way, followed.
After two steps in, Jonah remembered to turn on his flashlight. He admitted that it was a strange thing to forget. Much to Elizabeth’s surprise, she realized they hadn’t needed it -- not to walk at any rate -- as there was an eerie glow to the room which -- and this was something neither of them hoped to remember -- illuminated the thick fog that seemed to settle a foot from the floor.
“Elizabeth?” Jonah remarked. His question was incomplete but she knew precisely what he was asking.
“Yeah,” she answered. They were surrounded by the eerie, cooling mist and for infinitesimal a moment, Elizabeth dare thought it supernatural.
Jonah broke her morbid reverie with a floodlight causing the room directly before them to explode in a display of escape. A few rats scurried from the area which was now illuminated, preceded by a mass of cockroaches, preceded, still, by the very mist which coated the floor.
They stood in awe. Elizabeth, at least, was having trouble reconciling her flee instinct with her desire to examine the fog. If Jonah was anything like before, he was in the middle of fighting the same dilemma. He swept the floor with the wide beam of light, scattering the eerie mist for a moment before setting up one of the floodlight stands. Elizabeth was reminded how having a goal to accomplish had always helped Jonah deal with unusual circumstances.
Elizabeth, taking his method to heart and being entirely unable to fight her curiosity, traced the parameter of light to see exactly where the mist receded to. Had they missed it before? In their preoccupation with personal drama, had they failed to notice the unnatural mist? The light was moving erratically now so Elizabeth assumed Jonah was affixing the floodlight to the stand. She turned back to see that he was. He turned on the second floodlight, nearly blinding her.
Light washed, twice as strong, across the floor and up the walls to the ceiling. The macabre scene unfolded before them was enough to make many cringe, and some turn in disgust. Elizabeth did both -- as did Jonah -- Then steeled herself and turned back to the details painted in blood. Their nerves tempered and they observed, with critical detail, the streaks on the wall, the pools on the floor, and -- the most distressing of all -- the handprints on the ceiling.
“This place is, perhaps, more unnerving in the light,” Elizabeth commented.
“How could that possibly have happened?” Jonah muttered. His voice was soft but the deathly silence of the tomb allowed it to carry. He was looking up at the handprints.
“I have no earthly idea,” Elizabeth responded in the same tone of bewilderment.
By that time, Ashley had built up the nerve to come down with them. It seemed, also, that her anger for Jonah or Elizabeth or, perhaps, both had subsided for the most part.
“Have you found anythi-” Ashley cut off abruptly. Elizabeth looked back and saw her staring directly at the ceiling where -- though the light was facing the other way, the reflection of it off the wall provided little but enough light to view faintly -- the set of brown, almost black, handprints which faded as they progressed along the ceiling. There was nothing to say. With the rest of the room as example, there was nothing extraordinary about it.
As Elizabeth walked along the edge of their radius of light, Jonah set up a floodlight stand just outside of it. Elizabeth turned as he flipped the lights on. There, illuminated before them, was the table. Jonah’s face was one of disgust as he walked closer to it. There was a thin layer of dust on the surface however it was nothing compared to the door and the flight of stairs that preceded it. He looked back to Elizabeth and she, at once, recognized the look of subtle panic on his face.
“What is that?” He harshly whispered, his voice stiff and rough. He moved slightly to the side and allowed her to see. It was what she didn’t see that triggered her fear response. Beyond her field of clarity, stood a tall, dark, non-distinct outline. It stood as a man with muted features and it stood perfectly still. The little light that reached it, reflected pale yellow from two points, possibly eyes. A chill went up her spine and froze her in place.
As she stared at the apparition, Jonah backed up to where she was and pushed the floodlight stand closer. The light radius crept closer to the ghastly figure until it reached it. When the mist cleared, She saw it was standing against the back wall -- which was wrought of a more modern brick -- and was held up by two furry legs.
She was unsure whether to laugh or cringe as the light pushed away the darkness surrounding the creature exposing it to be a preserved animal of sorts. The conflict lay in her understanding of what the animal was. She saw a wolf, easily the size of a bear, standing, as it were, on two legs. The eyes still held the pale yellow fire that had stopped her heart and sent chills up her spine.
Jonah kept pushing the light further to expose the rest of the wall. In all, they found a desk and a series of hooks, on which hung a variety of implements; saws, hammers, and knives being the most recognizable. Jonah had his acetylene torch and spotlight available and walked into the flood of light, casting a dramatic shadow on the wall. Perhaps it was her nerves or perhaps it was the very nature of the cellar but Elizabeth was positive that even in the confines of Jonah‘s shadow, the wolf’s eyes still flickered pale yellow.
Elizabeth joined Jonah at the far wall. Ashley had gone back upstairs upon seeing the hands along the ceiling so they were alone again with their task, hopefully, drowning out their feelings. Jonah trailed his hand along the wall until finding something unusual. Elizabeth was unsure what it was but Jonah was apparently fascinated. He pushed a little. There was a very subtle scraping sound and Elizabeth could see his hand sink into the wall a little.
“This brick is loose,” he said, reaching for a screwdriver from his tool belt. He fit it between two bricks and started to wriggle it a little. Before long, there was a brick coming out into his hand. He shined the spotlight into the hole he made and stood back. “You have to see this,” he said to Elizabeth, moving aside for her. He held the spotlight as she put her eye to the hole. In the little stream of light that made it into the hole, she saw what she could only imagine as tarnished silver. Unsure of what material it was but positive that it was jewelry, she reached her hand into the hole left by the large brick. She wasn’t sure why she so willingly reached into the hole. Perhaps it was the light that calmed her nerves or perhaps it was an eagerness to validate their journey into the chilling darkness. Elizabeth never let go of the possibility that it was curiosity that drove her to ignore her survival instinct.
“Ashley will lose her mind. This might be valuable,” Jonah said, grinning. Elizabeth considered while she grasped -- among the spider webs and muck beyond the wall -- for the item that was seeming, more and more, to be a necklace. She wrapped her fingers around the cool metallic surface and tugged. There was a faint snapping sound and she felt a very distinct pain in her knuckle. She had been pricked by something. She made sure the necklace was secure and drew her hand out to inspect it. It was only a small prick but a little blood had risen to the surface and smeared across her skin during her retreat.
“Are you alright?“ Jonah asked, seeing the distress on her face.
“Yeah,“ she replied as she inspected the necklace. It was definitely silver and tarnished at parts with a large cross at its middle. Beyond the cross, it possessed no sharp points; especially any that could reach her knuckle so she put her eye back to the hole.
In the light of Jonah’s spotlight, from the angle at which she observed, she saw what could have been a human head. The necklace had, perhaps, been around the papery neck of the dry corpse. It seemed no surprise that a corpse would be hidden in the wall. Little down there could surprise by that point. As that thought crossed her mind, it surprised her so little that her nerves were still active. That thought preceded something that shocked her more than anything thus far; whether it be that light played in her imagination or that her imagination played in the dark, she was definitely staring at human remains and was frozen in place as the corpse -- as far as she could tell -- opened its eyes.