• • •
“A’ight boys, you know where we are. Let’s case this place quick and get the fuck out. Josey, you hit the upstairs, I’m pretty sure the bat had kids. Rambo, this floor. I’ll take basement.”
Josey and Rambo share a look that’s difficult to see through the shadows cast by their face masks, but Duncan catches it all the same.
“You boys got somethin’ to say ‘n say it. Man the fuck up.”
“You sure we need to hit the basement, Boss?” asks Rambo guiltily.
“And the attic too?” adds Josey, following with, “Lis’en, I do not mind goin’ up there, but part of me don’t wanna sit in the tub with you hitting the basement alone, you follow me, Boss?”
“I swear to Christ, if you two numbnuts are trying to bring up that shithouse rumor about the ghost, right now, I’m gonna lose my shit. Now if you got somethin’ to say, then man the fuck up and say it.”
Neither of the boys say a single word.
“All right. Away ya go, then.”
Duncan watches Rambo walk off into the shadows. Josey starts climbing the stairs. If it wasn’t for those stairs squeaking, he’d think Josey walked right up through the air. Don’t matter, though. This shithouse is stacked from shingle to septic tank, and all the good stuff is down in the basement. Ghosts, yeah, all right boys. How about rumors to keep the meek away ? Sounds more like it.
A chilled air blows into Duncan’s face as he opens the wooden door that leads down into the basement. The hinges are silent, so they must’ve been greased recently. That means somebody lives here, and there is no ghost. That settles it. Once and for all that settles it, the rumors can stay in the fuckin’ shithouse.
Every stair Duncan steps unto squeaks louder than the last. Halfway down they start bending under his weight. The railing breaks off before he reaches the base of the staircase. There’s at least a ten-degree difference in air temperature down here, and Duncan can’t hear a single air conditioner running… but would he? This house is old, the ancient kinda old, and the basement’s underground. Sure, it’s cold down here. It should be cold down here. Don’t mean there’s a Goddamn ghost.
Duncan clicks on his flashlight and sweeps the room. Lots of furniture, lots of artwork, lots of stuff dispersed throughout the room. There appears to be a bar on one side and it appears to be covered in bottles; appears, that is, because like everything else, it is covered in a white sheet that is covered in at least half an inch of dust. Everything save for the large pencil sketch of Marilyn Monroe in a cheesy golden frame hanging on the back wall, that is. Hanging crooked on the back wall.
Silence for seven seconds, then Duncan allows himself to laugh. “Maybe, maybe that’ll summon the ghosts. Yeah, know what? Fuck it, I ain’t scared’a no ghosts. I’m’a straighten it just to be spiteful.”
And so he does. And so he jumps high enough to clock his head on the low ceiling when he hears the framed sketch click.
“That wasn’t… hold on, did the wall come out here?”
Duncan’s clever-enough hands find a lip running from the floor to the ceiling. He grips it and pulls and a three-foot section of the wall swings out. Speechless, his jaw hanging open, his chin scruff mingling with his neck scruff, Duncan steps around and peers into the secret room behind the sketch. The walls, floor, ceiling are all black. There’s a dim spotlight shining down on what appears to be an old woman in a nightgown sitting in a rocking chair. She’s holding a box in her lap, both of her hands are on it. Her eyes are glued to it.
“Uhm… uh, Miss?” Duncan tries as the air whistles from his lungs. “Ah-ah… are you a… are you the ghost of this house? ”
The old woman cackles, but doesn’t look up. “No, honey, I’m no ghost. I live in this house. I came down here while you were at my door. I was hoping you wouldn’t find me, but you did.”
The old woman looks up. Duncan damn near soils himself.
“You won the prize, young man. The most valuable thing in this house is in this box, right here in my lap. Come to me, come take it.”
Everything in Duncan’s being tells him to dip the fuck out of here, but lo, he must go to the woman. Each step takes eons, yet he’s before her in seconds. Duncan gets down on his knees, takes off his gloves, and puts his hands on the box. It feels like it’s made of scales. Moving scales. He almost draws his hands back, but he cannot. It’s too late, he’s touched it, he must know what’s inside, he mus–
The box is open. Standing on a red velvet pillow is a carved wooden turtle.
“What… what is this?”
Duncan stands hastily and backs away.
“What are you, what’s going on?”
“Open the shell, Duncan,” says the old woman. She hasn’t blinked once.
“Wh–” ‘Did she just say my name?!’ “what?!”
“Beneath the turtle’s shell is the most valuable thing in this house, young man. First you opened the box, now you open the turtle. Come now, it’s all for you.”
“It’s all for me,” comes pouring out of Duncan’s mouth, but he doesn’t mean to speak. He doesn’t mean to walk back to the old woman, he doesn’t mean to take the shell off the wooden turtle, but what he sees beneath the shell? The glorious singing wonder of what spirals beneath the woman’s wooden turtle’s shell… Duncan’s entire life led to this moment. It was all meant to happen, every high and low, every friend and enemy, every life taken and death dealt… it was all meant to happen.
“What… what is this?” is all he can manage. Duncan is back on his knees. His mouth is overflowing with drool.
“It’s our Universe, young man. Isn’t She beautiful?”
Stars, planets, the harmony of the spheres, an ethereal song and dance, creation in splendor, entropy be damned, God is the greatest! Simplicity is the ultimate complexity, design without intelligence is intelligence sans design! Beauty is annihilation, perfection is wicked! Perfection… perfection is an insult, it does not hope to compare! “I… I see Her.”
“And she sees you, my young Duncan. She sees you.” The old woman reaches out and takes Duncan by the wrist. “Touch Her.”
Duncan wants to look away, but… but he can’t. “Touch…”
“Touch the Universe, young Duncan, so She may know She has touched you.”
Without telling it to, Duncan’s hand curls all its fingers but one. He brings the tip of his pointer finger closer and closer to the Universe, he feels Her light and Her warmth, he begins to hear the whispers of all those who reside within Her, he can see his family, his ancestors, his future relatives, the offspring of his offspring’s offspring… and the closer he gets, the more of them disappear. He tries to pull away but he can’t stop, he’s too close, the Universe is right there Duncan I’m right here, please Duncan, I wish to see your mind, to hear your thoughts, to feel your touch! Please Duncan, ¶ΓÆ§Σ!
Duncan’s finger makes contact with the Universe. Every cell in his body spontaneously combusts into blinding white light, then he’s gone. The shell is on the turtle. The old woman is alone in her secret room.
Bethany closes the box and bends over to put it on the floor. She then gets up, creeps over to, and gently shuts the door into her secret room in the basement. It’s a shame he had to find her, but the other two won’t. The other two will shout his name and run away scared when nobody answers, just like all the others do.
And if they do find the secret room in the basement? Well… then Bethany will give them their prize.
This has been the eighteenth story from Highdeas: The Lost Stories from the Seven Earths, a flash fiction anthology hidden in the back of the book Over the River: The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox. Here is everything you need to know about it:
Over the River
The Emancipation of Jonathan Knox
Over the River is the third book in a trilogy called The Fall of the Seven Earths. I’ve also released that trilogy as a single book called The Fall of the Seven Earths. Here’s everything you need to know about it:
The Fall of the Seven Earths
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~