***Since we’re coming upon Halloween, I thought I’d give my hand at giving you a chill. If anyone can advise of the technical issues (flow, structure etc) with this story, please don’t hesitate to comment. Enjoy!***
Ariel sat bolt upright in bed. A scream. “Was that a scream?” Her foggy mind tried to shake out of her deep slumber. “…that was a scream….” Her eyes searched the darkness around her trying to gain a reference point as her mind struggled to make sense of where she was and what was going on.
Rheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! It came again.
“Tasha!” instinctively the mother in her was hurdling from the bed through the darkness and throwing open the door to the bedroom. “Its okay baby, I’m coming, Momma’s coming!” she called as started down the hall for her daughter’s bedroom. The hall was bathed in a blue hue as a nightlight cast eerie shadows upon the stairwell before it dissolved into the darkness below. Goosebumps broke the surface of her skin and she unconsciously rubbed her arms fending off the night’s cold.
She grasped the handle to her daughter’s bedroom and flung open the door. Darkness. Silence. Moonlight streamed in through the uncovered window creating a cartoon-like frame on the floor, she half expected to see the slender outline of a black cat. Instead she saw a bed, perfectly dressed in its pink satin and lace butterfly quilt, its long posters reaching for the ceiling, capped in candy pink glass finials. A small butterfly pillow lay pristinely in the middle of the bed near the headboard which danced with the flight of a hundred small painted butterflies.
“Tasha?” She whispered hoarsely into the room as hope escaped her limbs and was replaced by the heaviness of memory. She slunk against the door frame, knees hitting the floor. Images of a broken and lifeless body lying in the street. A bicycle wheel spinning. Blood. Bright lights. Sirens. Nurses dragging her away. Numbness. An empty house. Silence.
She sobbed raggedly then; her howls of anguish echoing down the stairwell, flooding the emptiness of the house while somewhere in the dark recesses of the old dank basement came a low rasping laugh.
Morning came without ceremony. She’d hardly slept and had debated calling her husband for some emotional support at 4am but thought better of it. He’d only gone to the conference in New York because she’d told him she would be okay on her own. The past three months had been rough on both of them but he’d felt she needed some extra help dealing with the loss of their daughter and had taken her to a psychiatrist…the pills were supposed to help her sleep. Three weeks and her sleep still only came in fits and spurts.
She gazed angrily at the bottle sitting beside the water glass. She reached out, grabbed it and, opening the cabinet beneath the sink, tossed it into the garbage. “You don’t work!” She whispered tiredly.
The past three months had been unending nights of waking to a variety of noises, thumps, scrapes, cries and giggles – each one a reminder that the bedroom down the hall now stood helplessly empty. Tears filled the hours that dreams once occupied. Her days consisted of unconsciously setting the Winnie The Pooh plate on the table, staring hours at found toys encountered while cleaning and, of course, breaking down repeatedly into a sobbing mess on the floor. She wondered if there ever would be an end to these tears, the pain and the misery she felt within her heart.
The phone rang and startled her; she’d been staring at the pill bottle lying amongst the banana peels and discarded packages. She jumped and ran to silence it.
“H-hello?” she whispered hesitantly into the phone. Her husband’s voice filled her ear, “Hey Hun, how was your night?” She started to say “fine” but her voice choked and she began sobbing into the receiver. “Awww, Air, sweetheart, its okay. I can come home, okay? I’ll get the next flight, I knew I shouldn’t have left you so soon….” She managed to croak out, “Nnnnnno-NO-No. Y-y-y-you have to work, I have to deal with this, nothing’s changed – nothing’s changed,” she insisted through ragged sobs.
“Did you at least get some sleep?” He asked, but he already knew the answer. In the past three months she’d been operating on auto-pilot, her face a puffy mess of redness and dark circles. He wondered if she slept for more than two hours a night and subconsciously felt guilt wondering why he slept so soundly despite their shared tragedy. “Air, I can come home, it’s no big deal…”
Her lungs dragged in breath and she managed to pull her head up from its defeated pose. She shrugged her shoulders back in determination. “No, please, I-I-I need to do this ah-ah-lone. I n-need to know I can.” There was a pause as she struggled to slow her breathing down, his heart was breaking on the other end of the line hearing her struggle and knowing he couldn’t be there to hold her and comfort her.
“Nightmare last night.” She whispered to him, “Awake…all night? I think….pills aren’t working, not going to take them anymore…feel worse, like a hangover.”
“Okay, you do what you need to, okay? You want me to call Dr. Hassan for you? Maybe get something else?” He asked hoping it would help clear her head to talk about something relatively benign. She’d always been good at planning and strategizing.
Her breathing was coming easier; her mind began to think a little more clearly, “No. I can do it. I’ll call today, promise…” A small sob escaped and she bit her bottom lip to silence it, “I don’t want any more meds, Steve…it’s not my head that’s sick. I’ve said this before, it’s all of the noises at night…it’s like…it’s like…” Tears streamed down her face again as she forced out, “It’s like she’s still here…”
His eyes welled up. He slept like a rock; he heard no noises at night yet each morning she insisted there were noises coming from that room. He wondered if perhaps it was because of some mystical Mother-Daughter connection that maybe he wasn’t privy to because he was “the man”. Tasha was 6. He loved her so much it was immeasurable. The past six years of his life had been indescribably happy.
They’d moved into the big five bedroom turn of the century brick home not more than a year earlier. Tasha was their “One Of A Kind” and he lovingly said this to her each night as he kissed her – she’d giggle as she scrunched her eyes closed and snuggled down into her bed. They’d tried so hard for her and when she came into the world life seemed just that much brighter. Daddy’s little spark. Ariel had wanted another child; she’d been an Only Child and didn’t want her daughter to feel the same loneliness in life that she’d sometimes encountered. With his promotion and raise, they’d just begun seriously discussing adoption. They’d bought the house as a starting point for their soon to be growing family.
Tasha had nightmares, she’d wake up crying in the night. They’d just put it all off on the move, the new environment, the stress of starting school at the end of the summer. It was a lot for a kid to digest. She claimed she heard noises at night, coming from the basement, so Steven had taken her to the basement one afternoon and walked her through every nook and cranny pointing out that there was nothing to be afraid of. He remembered thinking how almost imperceptibly cool it was down there in the middle of summer and made a mental note to have someone come take a closer look at it.
“Awww, honey, please, don’t do that to your self. We’ve been through this sweetheart, okay?” He spoke softly and gently into the receiver as he heard her ragged breathing on the other end. “It was not your fault. She’s gone and it’s up to us to carry on, okay? I know you can do this. I believe in you. I love you more than anything.” He made sure to steer clear of pointing out to her that he heard no noises because that only generated anger and resentment on her part. They’d argued over it too many times since Tasha died. He rubbed his forehead, sighed and leaned against the wall of his hotel room. “Air, do you need me to come home? Honestly, because I will…you’re worth more than this silly job to me right now, I can’t lose you, babe….”
She stared out the window at the long driveway that led to the street…the street that took her daughter from her. A tear slipped from her cheek and splashed into the empty sink. “Ugggh. No, no.” she said with resolve, swiping at her cheek, “I have to learn to live again, on my own, on my own terms, right? Like we used to? I know she’s not here, Steven, I know. I still hear the noises though….I don’t know…maybe I’m hearing what she used to hear…maybe it’s just part of the grieving process….maybe I’m still wishing that God or whoever can just bring her back…” She paused and took a deep breath, “or maybe I am going crazy, who knows….I just know I don’t want any more pills. I just need to find something to get my mind off of it…I just need to try to be me again, y’know?”
He heard the frustration in her voice. “I know Hun, you’ll get there, you will. I know you will. It takes time though, okay? Give yourself a break, you know you can’t just make yourself snap out of this, it takes time to heal, okay? How about you do something just for you today, huh? You used to like painting, maybe you should try that again…or have a bubble bath? You know how you used to love those long baths, the candles, the soft jazz music. I miss hearing you sing -” A knock on the door to his room interrupted him. “Sweetie, I have to go, the morning session is starting soon but I’ll call you at the break, okay?”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She didn’t want to hang up the phone. She didn’t want to turn around and face the deafening silence of this house. Her hand shook as she said, “Alright. I love you Steven.” “I love you too honey. Talk to you soon. Bye.”
She put the phone down on the counter beside her and gazed out the window again.
In the basement, amid the newly formed cobwebs and ancient cracking foundation a strange shadow began to emerge on the north wall, stretching its way toward the floor. At first, one would come to the conclusion that the walls had begun seeping water, if that damp impression didn’t take on the distinct form of a small rounded doorway…a portal of sorts. The air in the basement dropped by 3 degrees and as if sensing it, Ariel turned to look at the calendar and rubbed her arms.
October 28. A red tractor sat decorated with pumpkins and cotton spider webs in the picture above the month. She frowned. Tasha had wanted to be a Fairy Princess again this year at Halloween, she’d said, “One day Mommy, I will be a real fairy too and I will fly from house to house in the world making everyone happy.”
“Yes, you will honey.” She thought sadly, then hugged her arms and walked into the livingroom. Maybe the TV would have something to help take her mind off of things, perhaps one of those satellite radio stations, some jazz or classic rock….
There was condensation forming on the three small windows in the basement, surely odd for the late October, but in this house, a regular occurrence no matter what time of year. You see the Grylx were not lovers of warmth, in fact, they were quite cold and always had been, ever since the time of the ancients when they happily straddled the line between worlds, long before this wood had given way to the ploughs and sod huts of the early human settlers. The Grylx had never liked the invading humans.
Along the wall, on each side of the damp, now icy slick “doorway” three small leathery and emaciated fingers emerged. There was a slight grunting noise as the ice began to coalesce into a shape that one would describe as gargoyle in appearance, yet thinner and much smaller, no more than a foot tall to be exact.
Tasha had found the Grylx to be horrifying. At first, they came to her each night in her dreams whispering for her to follow them through the portal. Their tiny sharp teeth and menacing appearance caused her to shrink away from them and often they would become angry, throwing things at her from the basement, cans from the shelves and on one of her last nights in the house, a box cutter that Daddy had left lying on the floor where he’d been working. In their attempts to lure her, the Grylx would always promise that they could be friends; that she would be their Fairy Princess and they could play every day and she’d never have to go to school or grow up ever. The dreams always started out the same, they came out of the wall in the basement, crawled out from the grate in her room and sat playing with her; tea parties, I spy and even dress up wearing the clothes of her butterfly and fairy dolls. But then it would always end up getting cold in her room and they would want her to follow them to the basement, showing her in her mind, the doorway on the north wall. When she would try to explain that Mommy and Daddy wouldn’t like her leaving her room late at night, they would get angry, they would say nasty things to her, things only angry grown ups say to one another and then their eyes would go red, like tiny lights and they’d begin to pinch her. The dreams always ended the same, they would try to drag her in her sleep to the doorway, and then when she resisted, afraid and starting to wake up, she could see them in her mind running back into the grate, disappearing down into the basement, angry, and throwing things at her. It was the noises that always startled her awake…the noises of the angry Grylx throwing things at her from the basement.
The sounds of smooth jazz began to fill the emptiness of the house and Ariel swayed allowing the music to do what it always did to her before her tragic loss. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, cleared her mind and just allowed the music to fill her thoughts. The harmonic beats took hold of her and she became engulfed in the moment. Her thoughts flashed back to an evening shortly after they had moved in; Tasha in bed and she and Steven holding one another and swaying to the sounds of Duke Ellington’s Creole Love Call. That was the moment she wanted to remember and her body reacted to the memory, filling her heart with sentimental joy, her tension floating away being replaced by the ease and comfort of that soulful trumpet.
A loud crash to her left caused her to nearly jump out of her skin. Her hand rushed to stifle a scream as she instinctively turned and back away from the direction of the sound. A coffee cup lay smashed on the tile floor of the kitchen. In a haze of confusion and bewilderment she walked toward the broken ceramic littering the floor – she didn’t remember getting a coffee cup out. She bent over to instinctively pick up the pieces when she noticed from the corner of her eye, that the door to the basement now stood open. Her mind sank further into a bewildered haze – she knew she had moments of lost recall in the past few months, but she swore all she’d done this morning was get up and then speak to Steven on the phone. How many hours had passed? She numbly stood and faced the basement door thinking that she was now completely losing her mind. Try as she might, she did not remember going near the basement today.
She wandered over intending to close the door but when she gazed down the old wooden stairwell her breathing stopped completely and her entire body froze in place. There, neatly arranged at the bottom of the stairwell, were the blood coated clothes that Tasha had been wearing the day she died. It was as if they were laid out for her to start her day, right down to the blood spattered butterfly socks. A pain seared through her brain and she began to breathe in ragged bursts, her insides became a knotted ball of emotion and her mind ceased to respond to logic. Numbly she started down the stairs toward the clothes as her mind screamed that this was not possible, she did not do this. She would not do this to herself. Another voice in her now fractured mind screamed, “Turn around! Don’t Go There!!” yet her feet continued to move toward the macabre display at the foot of the stairwell.
Two small leathery sets of hands shot out from under the third stair and grabbed her ankle with a steely grip. Ariel began to fall headlong down the remaining twenty or so stairs to the concrete floor, her head struck with a deafening crack before her overwhelmed consciousness had a chance to form a scream. She lay in a paralysed heap at the bottom of the stairwell, eyes staring blankly along the length of the unearthly cold floor, mouth open. A small leathery creature came into view, its tiny eyes red and its sharp teeth gnashing. A sound made it to her ears, Tasha’s voice. “No, Mommy says I can’t cross the street.” In her last remaining seconds of consciousness, Ariel witnessed a scene played out in her mind.
A creature standing amongst the trees on the far side of the roadway at the end of their lane, beckoning. Tasha, on her bike, protesting. Creatures pulling her bike toward the roadway. Tasha crying. The delivery truck speeding up the crest of the hill. The last image that registered in Ariel’s mind was a tiny menacing creature standing before her. The last sound she heard was a low rasping laugh. Upstairs the phone began to ring.
Four hours. The door to the house swung open. Steven left his briefcase and luggage on the porch and rushed inside calling, “Ariel! Air!? Honey? Is everything okay?” He paused as the anxiety threatened to well up into panic, “Ariel? Honey, talk to me, please…” He’d called at his break with no response. After 15 minutes of trying and still no answer, he’d left the conference to catch the first flight home. He kept trying to call the house unsuccessfully the whole way home and now, he feared the worst. The little nagging voice in the back of his mind kept telling him, “They always say, when they start to get better, that’s when you have to watch out.” Images flooded his mind of Ariel in the tub, her wrists cut; hanging in the basement or unconscious on the floor beside the bed. He put his hands to his head attempting to block the images as his heart thudded mercilessly in his chest.
“Ariel!!!” His voice boomed through the silent house. As he started into the living room he heard a thud above him. He turned hastily toward the stairwell but froze as his feet took the first stair. There staring down at him were all of Tasha’s fairy and butterfly dolls, neatly arranged in a maniacal scene at the top of the stairwell. He was frozen in place, his mind lost in stunned silence. The eyes of each doll began to glow red, their smiling mouths revealed tiny sharp pointed teeth.
From the basement came low rasping laughter.
You see, Grylx have never liked humans. Humans took away their forest, their home. Humans will never exist for long in Grylx territory.