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Stories from the Verse
Old Verses New
Chapter 15: Brown 5
Table of Contents
Previous chapter: Chapter 14: Kondor 46
Derek awoke, still in the dark, still in a room, still holding the knife in his hand. The blood on the blade running onto his hand suggested that he had succeeded in killing, or at least severely wounding, his attacker. But there was no body here.
Lightning flashed. The window was on his left; it had been on his right. This wasn't the same room. Wind rattled the glass, and a cold shiver ran through him. Rain pelted a roof somewhere above.
He didn't like this house. He didn't like the way it felt. He wanted to get out of it, find his bicycle, and get away. But quite apart from that, he didn't know whose house this was. Coming back to life inside someone's home was certainly an awkward situation, and he needed to get out before he was discovered.
First he had to pack his things. This wasn't going to be easy–there was more here than would fit in his backpack, and he had left the bicycle outside. The pack was still full of whatever he had stuffed into it, but there was more on the floor, more than he could easily carry. There was one pile of things he had pulled out of his backpack, and another still wrapped in the shirt from when he had carried it inside. He needed a way to contain it all.
There was a bed in the room, with a blanket on it. He didn't wish to steal a blanket, but he needed something and that was all he saw. Pulling it from the bed, he quickly and quietly tossed his loose things onto it and gathered it into a bundle. Once he found the bicycle, he could leave the blanket behind, maybe on the steps or something.
The door to the room suddenly slammed shut. He spun toward the sound; he hadn't realized it was open, or even looked that direction before now. A light was visible through the crack at the bottom of the door, but it faded as if carried away. He waited quietly, wondering whether he had been seen by someone. Perhaps whoever was in the hall had opened another door, and a cross breeze had caught this one. He waited in silence for some indication of what had happened. None came.
Abruptly he realized that he had been holding his breath. He let it out with a gasp and allowed himself to breathe heavily for a moment. Was this everything? There was a strange feeling, as if he forgot something; it came from two directions. One of them was somewhere below him, the other toward the bed. He walked to the bed, and the feeling seemed to come from beneath it, so he looked under it. His pocket knife was there; it must have fallen from his pocket in the other world, and wound up under the bed when the furnishings changed for this one. Somehow he could sense it there. Perhaps it was all a dream; but it seemed to have rules. He put it in his pocket.
That other sense must be his bicycle. That was good; it gave him something of a compass to help find his way out. Of course, maybe the bicycle wasn't outside; still, he wanted to find it, so that's where he should go.
Picking up his bundle, he moved to the door and hesitated, setting it down, and listening for any sound from the other side. All was quiet. He reached out, touching the door with his left hand and the knob with his right, and flinched back. They were both cold, cold like ice. Other than that one chill he'd felt, it had been warm here–and for the door to have slammed it must have been open, so it couldn't be so very cold on the other side. Cautiously he touched it again. Perhaps he had imagined it; it was not cold.
As he swung the door open, a loud creak echoed. Scooping his bundle with both arms, he stepped into the hall. The bare wood floor complained under his weight, but he could see the top of a stairway to his left, and slowly moved toward it, trying to keep the squeaks as quiet as possible.
Somewhere behind him the door slammed again. He wondered that it had even been open. It was darker now. There had been some illumination from the windows of that room, and although little enough reached the hall the loss of it was felt. The storm outside seemed to intensify; although this was unnerving, flashes of light from downstairs gave him his intermittent beacon. He crept cautiously forward, feeling his way through the darkness between snapshots of the scene.
Then there was a long moment without light. He stood where he was, not wanting to step off the edge at the top of the stairs unaware. In the darkness, the wind shook the house, rattling windows and drainpipes and he did not dare guess what else as the rain pounded fiercely against the roof and walls. A sound like a low moan seemed to emanate from the very house itself, coming from every direction at once–a ghost, he thought; a restless spirit from beyond the grave. Of course, maybe that's what he himself was: a restless spirit beyond the grave. The thought simultaneously cheered and depressed him, cheered him because he had less to fear from the dead, depressed him because it meant that his life had ended, he really had died back in his living room now maybe two days ago. He shook it off. The sound–it was probably just the wind finding an open pipe, like blowing over the mouth of a soda bottle, but on a larger scale. No light returned.
He slid his left foot forward across the floor; feeling no edge, he shifted his weight onto it and moved his right foot the same way. In this fashion he was able to proceed, ever so slowly, toward the steps.
In the darkness, something bumped his shoulder. He jumped, nearly dropping his bundle, before realizing that it was only the wall; he had edged toward it, unable to go perfectly straight without his sight. That was all right; it was better, in fact: he could follow the wall, to have some point of contact, some guide in the night. His interminable trek continued.
His shoulder found the molding around a door frame. He hadn't considered this. Should he risk leaning on a door, which might open into a room in which might be, he tried not to be too specific in his thoughts, anything? Or should he step away from the wall, back out into the darkness, away from his anchor? He stood a moment, considering this new problem, and the lightning flashed again.
He stifled a scream; in the blink of light he saw someone, something, standing between him and the stairway, or perhaps floating, or hanging, in the air. But the light flashed again, and there was nothing. A shadow, a trick of the light perhaps, but no one was there.
Two steps would get him past the door; he could find the wall beyond it. He moved forward.
He had lost his bearings, or at least in part. The distance to the stair was now very unclear in his mind–if indeed there was a stair. In the gloom all he knew for certain was that the floor ended and the ceiling sloped down from above; there could be nothing, a sheer drop to the floor below or even beyond. He remembered sneaking into the new houses they were building across town, and noticing that when the stairs had not been installed there was a huge hole from the second floor bedrooms to the basement. It made him very nervous then, and even more so now. Any step could carry him off the edge, plummeting to his death yet again. Yet if there were no stairs, there was no hope; he was trapped.
There had to be stairs. Someone lived here, somewhere. He'd seen the light pass outside the door. There was a blanket on the bed. This wasn't an unfinished house; it was just a house making strange noises and eerie shadows in the storm. Of course there were stairs. He just had to reach them.
His right foot, leading him forward at that moment, found emptiness. This was the edge. He brought it back until it was a comfortable distance from the drop, and moved forward to stand. He was ready to walk down those stairs. He knew they were there; he just had to step down and find the next one.
He didn't. He froze where he was. Certainly he believed that there were stairs in front of him; it was the only thing that made any sense. But he wasn't about to step off the edge without proof that something was there to catch him. It was only reasonable, he said; the stairs could have been removed so they could replace them, or they could be damaged, or there could be things piled on them. Mom always piled clothes on the stairs, and said he and his brother should carry theirs up. If he stepped on a pile of clothes, he would tumble through the darkness to whatever lay at the bottom. Better to wait, to know for certain where he was going before he began.
The wait seemed unending, as if the storm did not wish for him to know, to see, what lay ahead. A cold draft brushed his legs, and the hair on the back of his neck stood on edge. Still he waited, watching, listening, feeling the darkness surrounding him.
The lightning flashed. There were stairs, and there was nothing on them. They went down a full flight, perhaps a bit longer, to a wooden floor below. Before the thunder sounded, his left foot had gone over the edge to the top step, then his right foot passed it, finding the next, and his left foot followed.
Something caught it. He tripped, and tumbled forward through the darkness.
There is a behind-the-writings look at the thoughts, influences, and ideas of this chapter, along with eight other sequential chapters of this novel, in mark Joseph "young" web log entry #78: Novel Fears. Given a moment, this link should take you directly to the section relevant to this chapter. It may contain spoilers of upcoming chapters.
As to the old stories that have long been here: