“Daddy!” Owen’s voice blasted through the night and jarred his father awake. Charlie Pinder rolled over and read the time on his bedside alarm clock. Too damn early.
“Aww,” Charlie muttered, “the kid always wakes me up — she can sleep through anything.” Megan mumbled in her sleep, her hair a tangle of dark blue in the moonlight.
Charlie flopped his feet over the edge of the bed and brought them in contact with the cold hardwood floor. Behind him, Megan stirred but remained in a deep slumber, a slight hint of a smile dusted across her lips. Charlie stumbled through the dark into Owen’s bedroom.
“What is it, buddy?” he whispered. Owen’s small face glowed green from his nightlight with a shining streak down his cheek.
“Is there anything scary?” Owen whimpered.
Charlie knelt down next to Owen’s bed. “No way, buddy,” Charlie said.
“The man in the basement said there was lots to be scared of.”
Charlie blinked. “Who?”
“The man in the basement.” Owen wiped a sleeve across his face. “Where does grandpa live?”
Charlie rubbed his forehead. “Grandpa lives in Cleveland, buddy.” He pulled the comforter up to Owen’s chin.
“The man said he was grandpa.”
Charlie sighed. “You and me will go talk to him, together, in the morning. Okay?”
Pushing himself from the floor, Charlie padded across the hall.
“He okay?” Megan asked, propped on one elbow.
“Fine. He’s fine.” Charlie slipped into bed. “Asked about Grandpa. Says he talked to him in the basement.”
Megan chuckled. “Right. My dad’s in Cleveland.”
“I told him. At least the kid has an imagination.”
Silence swallowed a few moments. Megan turned to Charlie. “You don’t think he’s talking about your dad?”
“That bum took off twenty-five years ago.” Charlie shook his head. “Told Mom he was going out for a pack of cigarettes. Stupid bastard.”
Charlie stared at the ceiling for fifteen minutes. Sleep wasn’t coming back so easily. “Megs, I’m a little restless, gonna watch some TV.”
“Make sure you come back,” she muttered, half asleep.
He hopped to the floor. “Funny.” A nice glass of milk. That’ll help me sleep. He walked to the kitchen, poured a glass, and listened. The house was still, only the occasional groaning of old wood and whispering ventilation. Charlie stood at the sink with his glass of milk, imagining people in the dark shadows outside. Nonsense.
But — it wouldn’t hurt to check.
After swallowing the last few gulps of milk, Charlie hurried down the basement stairs. All was quiet, a deep blue silence that hung like old drapes over everything. He flicked on a light and squinted with the bright flare. The room smelled different. Old. A memory sputtered in Charlie’s brain.
He worked his way around the basement, past the unused exercise machine, the ancient console TV, the stacks of boxes — books that never made it out after their last move. He stooped and snagged a book from the nearest one, held it to his nose, and inhaled. No. The basement smell was different — the musty odor of old paper. My basement, back home — the old house on Lindbergh. Charlie shuddered at the sudden memory.
In the laundry room he found a door. Pulling his pajama collar against the cold, his feet nearly frozen to the concrete, Charlie stepped closer. Funny, I don’t remember… One hand touched the knob; the brass was warm, out of place. He turned the knob and pulled the door open without thinking. A few feeble rays of light poked through the doorway, but couldn’t really penetrate the black veil.
He found himself through the door before having the thought to go in. Devoured by a new darkness, a more complete quiet, Charlie Pinder said “hello” to puncture the silence.
“Thank God, Charlie.” The voice was raw, wet and raspy. An old man’s voice. Charlie felt a boney hand clasp his arm. “Free at last,” the voice said. The hand released him. Charlie heard a door click shut. The room fell to black again.
Charlie waited for a moment. His eyes did not adjust; no tiny beam of light streamed in to reveal his prison. After a while, he groped about on his hands and knees, touching the edges of the room, finding each corner, wall, and crevice. The door was gone. He sat down.
Someone will come and find me.
He may wait for a long time.
Aaron Polson is a high school English teacher and freelance writer who dreams in black and white with Rod Serling narration. He currently resides in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife, two sons, and a rather sturdy — almost supernatural — tropical fish. His short fiction has appeared in various places, including Reflection’s Edge, GlassFire Magazine, Big Pulp, Johnny America, and Permuted Press’s Monstrous anthology. You can visit him on the web at www.aaronpolson.com.