“Try not to touch that one, honey. That has the dead mouse in it.”
Becky immediately dropped the box she was toting out of the basement, simultaneously screaming. Doug didn't even have to explain that he was teasing her; it always worked and she was always pissed at him.
“DOUG!” she screeched. “Stop doing that!”
They had spent the afternoon toting trash up the stairs and into the dumpster Doug had rented and had placed outside the farmhouse. This was their dream. Or rather Doug's dream: buy an old, historic farmhouse out in the country and restore it. She went along with it because he wanted it so much, but she was a Chicago girl at heart, and the house was so old and falling apart.
“Sorry.” But he was smiling ear to ear as he said it. The basement had decades of boxes and trash stacked up against the wall. It was hours before they could even see it....a century old brick wall that at one point had been painted white. “Hey! We can fit the dolly down here now!” He bounded up the old planks of the basement stairs, taking them two at a time, the noise reverberating through the basement.
“Doug! Careful!” As big as her husband was, she was amazed at how seldom he broke through walls or crushed furniture. He would clomp noisily through their city apartment, often prompting the neighbors to complain. Now that their living quarters was a century and a half old house she was fairly certain he would eventually plummet through a floor, staircase, porch....
She took his momentary absence to take a deep breath and survey their surroundings. Her husband had a tendency to jump headfirst into everything..jobs, projects, marriage. It was one of the
things she adored about him. The basement was a horror show; boxes and old junk everywhere. Doug convinced her that there would be “thousands of dollars” worth of antiques buried down there, but so far just broken dishes (cheap) and moldy clothing (tacky, not retro). The two of them had cleared a significant amount of room down there so they could finally see the wall.
The basement had no windows and only one light bulb suspended by an old cord. Doug pointed out to her where a window had originally been, but had long ago been bricked up. The lonely bulb cast huge shadows over the increasingly bare walls.
“Got it!” He yelled as he came clomping down the stairs two at a time, the dolly hoisted over his head. The stairs creaked loudly.
“Doug!” She yelled his name. It occurred to her that she usually didn't say his name unless she was yelling it. “Be careful! Those boards are old! I swear to God you're going to crash through it!”
He laughed. “Nah!” He set the dolly down and started grabbing more boxes. “This place is solid as a rock!” He cleared off a section of wall and patted it appreciatively. “They knew how to build back then. What did Sylvia tell us? 1865? This place witnessed the Civil War for God's sake!”
She thought of telling him that the war was over in '65 and was never fought in northern Indiana but knew from experience that it was futile. “Mmhm.” was her usual response.
“Maybe we can...whoa!” Doug had set the dolly down and had forgotten its presence when he turned back to admire the 19th century craftmanship of his new basement wall. His foot caught on the wheel axle and pitched him forward into the it, all 250 pounds of him hitting it shoulder first. But instead of stopping him cold, the wall gave about six inches forward, brick pieces and dust showering him and the floor.
“Ohmigodareyouok?” She rushed to him, still upright but half in and out of the wall. She knew she could never pull him out and hoped she didn't need to call someone. Cell phone service out here was spotty at best.
“My arm! Oh my God, my arm!”
Her worst fears realized, she rushed to him, reaching for her cell, knowing there would be no signal...
His smile confirmed her second worst fear. “Doug! I hate when you do that! Why do you do
that?” He kept smiling but quickly changed to concern when he realized he was stuck, his arm somehow inside the wall.
“Uh, little help!”
“Oh, sure! Now you need my help!”
“Uh, Becks. There's something back here and I'm really stuck!”
Instinctively she rushed to him, grabbing his unadorned elbow. She knew she wouldn't really be able to lift his bulk out of the wall but at least she could steady him while he worked himself out. “What is it?”
“Don't know. But there's definitely a space back here.” He looked around. “Hon, I think this whole wall is false!”
“What do you mean false?” With her help he finally worked his way out of the rubble and stood straight, all six foot two of him.
He stared at the hole in the wall for several moments, taking in all four corners. “I mean that this wall we're looking at was put in later. About a foot or so in front of the original wall.”
“Why would anyone do that?”
Doug paused, slowly peering into the hole his body had created. “Why indeed?” He started pulling brick and mortar from the wall to his feet.
“Babe there's something in here!” He frantically threw ancient building materials behind him, missing his wife by inches. He was on his knees now, peering inside. “Hmmm.”
She didn't like the sound of that “Hmmm.” She watched silently as he removed more bricks, clearing a space almost to the floor. She felt herself tense up, awaiting the inevitable prank he saved just for these situations. “Umm, I'm not sure if you should see this or not.”
She exhaled. Did he really think that after six years she would still fall for that?
“Don't be funny. I won't fall for it this time.”
He hadn't taken his eyes off the hole in the wall. He spoke very gently. “Not kidding, Becks. I think its a body.” Countless times he had fooled her with his little tricks, but she knew this time was different. His body language, the tone of his voice. She took a step forward, he took a half step back, and the two of them stared inside the hole.
At first she was relieved; he was obviously mistaken. It clearly wasn't a body, just an old collection of rags. Then her eyes adjusted and she felt cold. It was very small, not a skeleton but mummified. The hair was still clearly visible. “Is it a child?”
“I think its a child,” he agreed.
“How long has it been here?”
He studied it some more. “Decades. Look. You can still see the clothing. Those are suspenders. Twenties? Thirties maybe? Oh my god.”
“What?” She felt colder by the minute.
“Look at the wrists. They're tied together.” She saw that he was right. The child's wrists had clearly been tied together with leather straps. Doug pointed at its head. Another strap was visible around its throat, appearing to be attached to something on the wall behind it. She nodded.
“It also looks pinned by that.” She pointed to the piece of wood sticking out from the center of it. Doug peered in closer.
“A piece of wood couldn't hold it to the brick...” he muttered.
Becky was suddenly gripped by an immense sadness. Here the two of them were discussing matter-of-factly the mechanics of keeping a corpse on a wall, when a child had obviously been murdered. Brutally murdered and abandoned in this basement; it's murderer building the wall to hide his crime.
He kept looking at the thing sticking out of the child's chest, pondering...
“Doug, I think we should...”
“A stake.” he said softly. Then repeated it louder.
“A stake? What do you mean?”
“Becky! There is a stake through his heart! Right there! Are you freaking kidding me?” He stepped back from the wall and ran his fingers through his hair, not noticing he was spreading dirt and brick dust all through it. Becky thought it made him look like a much older man.
She looked at it, hoping it was just one of his jokes but knowing it couldn't be. “Why do you say it's a 'he?'”
“The suspenders” he said thoughtfully. He reached down for it.
“Doug! Don't touch it! We can't touch anything until the police get here!” He didn't answer. “Honey, I'm serious. Don't pull that out.” He straightened up and the two of them stood there staring. After several moments Doug spoke.
“Whats that?” It was partially obscured by the second wall, but there was clearly writing on the wall above the body. They both crouched a little so they could look up at it.
Two rows of symbols were painted over the corpse.
“What is that?”
“Its not English. I don't think its any language at all.” He stared at it then bent down and reached for the stake again. She pulled him away.
“Stop it!' She was disconcerted by the cool way he was acting. He should have been freaking out more than she was. But he just kept staring.
“Becks, go call the Sheriff. I'll stay here.” His voice was quite gentle.
She hesitated but knew if she didn't call he would stall forever. She wanted this over with. “Ok, but promise me you won't touch anything!” She ran upstairs reaching for her cell. Finding it she waited for a signal, but knew there wouldn't be one. She went outside. Still nothing. How did her husband think they were going to start a life out here when they couldn't be connected with the outside world? She went back inside, still trying to work the phone.
“Doug, there's no signal. We should...” She stopped at the top of the stairs. The light was out and she was looking into pitch darkness. Why would he turn off the light? Foreboding came over her. She did not want to go down the stairs. “Doug? What's going on?” She heard a rustling and knew he was still down there. “This isn't funny! I am not coming down there so you can scare me!”
Her answer was a light creaking of the bottom step.
She listened carefully. She was shivering; it seemed she had never felt this cold. The stair creaked again.
“Doug! Stop this right now! You're not funny!” The stair creaked twice this time in succession. Someone was clearly coming up the steps. Becky backed away from the door, no longer looking down into the darkness. How dare he do this to her? He had no right!
“Doug!” She kicked the wall hard. Why, she didn't know. She hoped it would make her feel better but it didn't. Two more footsteps in quick succession.
“DOUG!” She was crying now. She hated him so much at this moment. How far he would go just to scare her! He even had the nerve to disguise the sound of his steps!
It was closer now. A soft creak, followed by another. Followed by another... Whatever it was stopped at the top of the stairs, just out of her sight.
“DOUG! DOUG! DOUG!”
It stepped out of the stairwell. She knew she wasn't looking at Doug but was no longer afraid. It turned to face her. Why was she on her knees? It lifted its arms up to her, no longer bound by the straps. He reached out for her, waiting to be picked up.
She picked him up.
Bio: This is my first submission to short-story.me. I have had a lifetime love of horror stories and movies. My influences are Stephen King and Brian Keene. Hope you enjoyed it!