Around him, the world is dark. He had known instinctively that he shouldn’t come down here. Especially at night. Especially alone. But he had allowed his friends to goad him into it. If they’d been children, it would have been a ‘Triple Dog Dare’. As it was, all they’d had to do was question his manhood.
It was a stupid, stupid thing, and now he regretted it. Pride told him to stay put for the whole fifteen minutes. It told him that he would show the bastards he was no coward. Then he would get the added bonus of calling them chicken for not following suit.
The rest of him, however, wanted to bolt. Run as quickly as possible back up those ancient and rickety wood stairs and yank open the door. He could imagine himself spilling into the yellow light of the kitchen. He knew there would be laughter, at his expense, but at least he would be out.
The flashlight had burned out on him minutes ago. Since the passage of time was not marked by any clock or sunlight, he didn’t know if it was five or ten. Or maybe even a half an hour. He just knows he likes the situation a hell of a lot less n ow. Without the light giving his eyes something to look at, his brains no longer has sight as a distraction. Sounds have become prevalent in his life. There are a lot of sounds, too. Some might be his imagination playing ticks, but some of them are real, actually there.
The one that disturbs him the most is the one to his left. He doesn’t know how far away it is, just that it’s to the left. The opposite direction of the door. He’s sure of this because he hasn’t moved since the flashlight shit out and he knew the placement of the exit prior to that. Just in case he decided to run.
The sounds consist of water running through pipes, a low and eerie gurgle, sometimes what sounds like a splash when there’s a turn in the metal. There’s the wind coming through some crack in the foundation, a deep almost whistle, it varies in intensity and he imagines that somebody might think it a ghost. He can hear his own breathing and the drumming of his heart as well. Both sounds feel as if they take up most of it, though in reality he’s probably not being any louder than anything else. He can hear all of this, and that sound to the left.
It is as if something very large is over there, shifting it’s weight. The dry crackle of dirt and tiny rocks against concrete. Slow and patient, is that sound. As if whatever it is can wait for an eternity to do what it’s going to do. With the sound is the sensation of movement. He would swear if asked that it is like the very fabric of existence shifts along with the whateveritis.
The problem with this sound and sensation, besides the panic it induces, is that the first thing he did when the door shut behind him and his feet left the bottom stair was check every corner. Under everything. Behind everything. To make sure he was truly alone. He’d wondered if another boy had come down before him with the intent of scaring him once he’d calmed. But there was no other boy. No anything, actually. Not even a spiderweb. A detail that hadn’t meant much to him then, but was now becoming strange as he thought about it.
Nothing in the basement but him. And now he is standing in the utter blackness and hearing sounds. He keeps trying to hold his breath to determine if he can hear the breath of another, but he can’t. Does that mean there’s nothing there? Or that whatever it is can out wait his attempts to discover it?
The heavy scrape again. This time it is more than just a shifting. It’s an outright movement. A step. He feels as if the air has condensed and is pushing against him. As if everything in this world objects to whatever it is coming closer. As if it is not a natural member of this place and this place is trying to reject it.
He is also doing his best to deny that it’s there. He cannot accept that after his very thorough search, something has appeared. His mind accepts this logic, but his body does not. The hairs of his arms and on the back of his neck are standing. His gut is fluttering. His heart pounding. His mouth has gone completely dry and he cannot swallow, yet the palms of both hands are producing enough liquid to fill a small tub.
It is fear. He will not deny it. In fact, he is willing to admit to himself that it is more than just fear, it’s terror. He can’t remember a single time in his entire life that he felt this way, but he is still very able to identify the emotion. He figures that if his insides hadn’t dried up so completely, he would have vomited by now.
The movement once more. It’s closer now. He figures it to be big, as it’s much closer than it was. And in only two steps. The weight of it seems to be bearing down on him now. Like it’s looming over him Perhaps studying him. He doesn’t see any eyes, doesn’t feel any breath. For which he is grateful, he supposes. Would it be better to experience these things? To know for sure something is there? He suddenly decides it would be. If he cannot see it, and he cannot, he will have to feel it. Not just waiting for it to brush by or breathe on him, either. It might not ever do that. He has decided to reach his hand out. To take the initiative. He has to know if he is alone, he has decided that waiting is foolish.
But it takes him a moment to gather his will to do it. His hand won’t obey the edict his brain has given. It seems to know the potential danger of this action and has no desire to be ripped away from the rest of his body. In that moment, it moves again. He is sure it is now directly in front of him. Does it perhaps not know he’s there? Is it as deprived of senses as he is? Will this attempt to touch only alert it to his presence, thus pushing him into a danger that didn’t exist before?
He has no time to ponder these questions completely. His hand has decided to take the action he is currently unsure of. The signals between his brain and the extremities it controls seem to be severely delayed. It is moving away from the side of his leg, coming first to shoulder height before snaking forward in the dark to where he is certain it will find the basement’s other occupant.
The hand finds something. By touch alone he can’t determine what it is. A blessing or a curse? the texture is completely smooth. There are no bumps or wrinkles, no edges. The temperature of it is cold, the composition is hard. But it is not something he can recognize. Not metal or plastic or wood. Certainly not flesh. At least not human flesh. It’s not pliant like human flesh. Yet it must be something living, as he can now feel the movement of it’s breathing and the subtle shift it makes, turning slightly. Toward or away, he can’t quite define. He doesn’t know what part of it is closer to him, so he can’t tell what the maneuver means. He’s not even really sure if it can feel him touching it. He had imagined there would be a very strong, immediate reaction, and there’s been only that shifting.
His imagination runs wild with ideas of what could be with him in the basement. None of them are at all positive. And not one of the ideas he comes up with encourage the belief he will walk out of this situation unscathed.
Panic is rising. He can smell his own sweat becoming sour with it. He wonders if It can smell that. Animals can sense emotion and a very tiny part of him is curious to know if it shares animalistic traits. It is not an animal, however, this he is sure of. Animals did not move or feel like this. Animals would have had a recognizable reaction to him long before he’d ever thought to reach out and touch.
His hand is still on it as it moves again. This time he knows it has turned toward him, not away. The hairs on his face inform him something is close enough to brush them lightly. It almost tickles. More than that, he can now actually feel breath. The pattern of the air blowing against him suggests to his primal side that he’s being smelled. Inspected. He can’t know what the end game for such a study will be. Further disinterest on it’s part, or his death. He is so frightened now that his head is beginning to feel light. He knows he is very close to passing out. Another sensation he’s never previously experienced but is extremely sure of.
The sniffing continues across his face and down to his neck. His pulse, he is sure, would be visible if there was any light. His hand is still on it, whatever it is. He cannot remove it. He cannot, actually, move any part of himself now.
He feels a change in the breath. The pattern of smelling disappears. There is no breathing at all for a brief second. When it returns it is wetter. From a mouth, he supposes, instead of a nose. The moisture is warm. It clings to his skin where it touches. His neck now receiving the brunt of the attention. His heart beats even harder. He would have sworn it an impossible thing, that his heart would give up completely if taxed further. The mouth of the thing is closer, the breath making his flesh hot now instead of just warm. The condensation mixing with his sweat and rolling into his shirt collar.
He is a mess, yet detects no change in the mystery he’s touching. It does not seem to him to be angry or excited in any way. It is just there, he just happens to also be there. The attack, if that’s what this is, is not frenzied or hasty. He has had far too much time to imagine the pain, and he hasn’t even felt the brush of teeth yet. Perhaps it’s playing with him. A sadistic game to raise his fear levels for it’s enjoyment. His mind whirls with this and many other possibilities as to why it’s taking so long.
He’s done for, he’s sure. This is the end. Life is over for him. Every muscle in his body confirms it.
He just wishes it would be over with.
He hasn’t even once thought of crying out, yelling for the others to come rescue him. He hasn’t thought of running away, taking those stairs two at a time until he’s at the door. His fight or flight instinct has failed him.
When he finally feels what he’s sure is a very sharp tooth graze the underside of his jaw, he closes his eyes. It makes no difference really, but he does it anyway. The darkness with his eyes closed is more comforting than the darkness he can see when they’re open. The time is here. It is finally making it’s move. He wonders if he’ll die right away, or if he’ll be forced to experience being eaten alive.
Out of his resignation of death he’s shaken suddenly, the door out is flung open. He hears it hit the doorstop. There is boyish laughter and then the light is snapped on. His friends have come for him. They’re saying something about how long he’s been down here, something else about being surprised he didn’t scream. They beckon him upstairs.
When he opens his eyes there is nothing to see. He is alone in the basement save the boys at the top of the stairs. His hand is still held out before him, where he had made physical contact with the unknown, but he feels nothing anymore.