Short Story: Down Below

Stairwell

Written as part of a Writer’s Plot assignment. First line written by crime thriller extraordinaire Cat Connor.

Down Below

We started down the stairs. Why is it stairwells all smell so unpleasant? I couldn’t describe the smell but it was almost like musty feet.

The light began to get dimmer as we left the surface above. “Time to flick on that torch,” I said to Frankie beside me on the stairwell. She pulled a phone out of her pocket and began fiddling with the screen. I stopped to wait for her. “You’re telling me you didn’t bring an actual torch?” I could have face palmed myself.

“Who has torches these days?” she defended.

“Smart people.”

“Well, then where’s your one Jules?” she snarked.

“I was under the impression you were sorting out the light situation. It’s what we worked out.”

She finally found control of the tiny LED light at the top of the phone and shone it down the stairwell. It sufficed. Barely. I started after her. The musty smell only grew more intense. The walls were concrete and coated in a dark green moss. “What do you know, there’s life six feet under,” I looked at Frankie who simply glared at me. Sometimes I don’t know why I’m friends with that girl. Oh wait, it was her that got us this location, these musty stairs. Frankie turned away and sighed. It was as if she could read the sarcasm through my face. Was I that obvious?

On the next step my foot caught air and I found myself tumbling. In seconds I came to a crumpled stop at what felt like the bottom. “Jules!” I heard Freddie cry. “Jesus, are you okay?”

I struggled to my feet and patted myself down. My right leg was bleeding slightly and my kneecaps stung like hell. Freddie joined me at the bottom. There was a steel door with a letterbox shaped slot in the middle, and bizarrely no door handle. “How did you fall?” asked Freddie.

“How should I know? You’re the one leading me down this dodgy stairwell.” I said.

“I know as much about this place as you do.”

Frankie pointed her phone’s light down on my legs and I could see the red trickle down into my socks.

“I suppose your phone can’t do Band-Aids?”

She looked apologetic.

“So we knock apparently,” she said.

We both looked at the metal door, the light revealing scrapes in the metal. “Bryce tell you this?” I asked.

“Yeah, that was all I could get out of him. He seemed too scared to tell me anything more.”

“What, you didn’t let him touch your boob or anything?”

I received another glare. They were almost expected now.

“Well I didn’t come here to get bruised up and leave empty handed.” I reached up and knocked firmly. Three times. I could hear footsteps behind the door, somebody running towards it. I stepped back and tugged on Frankie’s hand to do the same. The door remained shut but a hand shot through the slot and dropped a white piece of card that fell to the ground. I gingerly stepped forward and reached down to pick up the card. I stepped back from the creepy door and turned the card over. Frankie leaned her head in to take a look. It was a scrawled note that read: Go Away.

Go away? I literally skin my knees to get here and that’s all we get? I raised my voice at the door, “Oi, stop your little card trick. Bryce sent us. Open up.” The door remained still. Take your damn card back,” I walked up to the hole and thrust it through the gap. Fingers. A hand gripped my wrist and yanked me up to the door. I yelped and wrestled my hand free. The person let go and I wrenched my hand back through the gap and to the safety of my chest. “Fuckwit!” I kicked the steel door with my boot.

Frankie kept her mouth shut. First the stairs, then my hand and now my foot. With all this pain my body was feeling a little raw. I looked over to Frankie who stood unharmed in her perfect little dress still holding out her phone like an idiot. I bit my tongue. “Maybe we should go Jules,” said Frankie.

I looked around in desperation for a tool, another entrance, anything. But there was just more concrete.

“Screw this theory,” I said turning, ready to embark on the epic journey up to the surface. “Look,” said Frankie. She pointed to another white piece of card, lying in the same place the last one fell. “I’m not going near that hole,” I said.

Frankie bent down staying clear of the hole and picked up the note. She showed it to me. This one was scrawled in a hurry: Password idiot.

“Password? You didn’t tell me about any password,” I said.

Frankie shrugged her shoulders. “Bryce told me to descend down these stairs and knock on the door.”

It finally dawned on me. It wasn’t just any knock that would do. They wanted a sequence. “You’re sure Bryce didn’t say anything else?”

“Nope.”

“How about the amount of knocks?”

Frankie screwed up her nose as she tried to remember. “Nothing, I’m sorry Jules.”

I marched right up to the steel door and knocked once. Twice. Three times. Six times in a rhythm. Nothing, and my knuckles were starting to join the pain party with the rest of my body. I stood defeated. “Knock, knock you goddamn door.”

And the door swung open to a candle lit hallway. “Huh,” I murmured.

I heard a figure scamper away, shoes on wet concrete, and I saw a black shadow disappearing around a corner. Frankie switched her phone off and put it away. The candles were enough to light the place up. The door began to close on its own by its own sheer weight, and we rushed inside. The door shut tight behind us. I had a nagging feeling I should check to see if it would open from this side, but I let it pass.

We tracked past flickering candles and though a winding tunnel. I could hear something; voices. “Do you hear that?” I whispered to Frankie.

“I think so. Is it… chanting?”

The tunnel opened up into an alcove above a clearing. The voices were louder now and I could see a circle of red cloaked and hooded individuals chanting around something in the centre of the group. I turned to Frankie. “This what you were expecting?”

“Actually I thought it would be a little less clichéd. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers.”

“What’s that in the middle there?”

I leaned over Frankie’s shoulder and squinted. “Some kind of… wait, that’s a person.”

The chanting grew louder, becoming a roar that echoed around the cave. It was unlike any language she had heard. A cloaked figure took down its hood. It was a bald man with some kind of tribal tattoo on his wrinkled forehead. He stepped towards the figure and ripped a blade from under his cloak.

“Jesus Jules, he’s going to kill them.”

Before I knew what I was doing I cupped my hands together and cried out, “Stop!”

The bald man in the hood stopped in his tracks, blade poised in the air above the poor form crumpled on the floor. He looked up at Frankie and I, and tore off his red hood. He spoke in a posh British accent. “Excuse me. Can’t you see we’re in the middle of a ritual? How rude.”

I almost hit the floor. “Umm, you’re about to kill someone. In my world, that’s murder.”

Frankie just stood by watching.

The bald man waved his knife about as he talked. “Girl, this is none of your business. I don’t know why you were let in here, but would you kindly leave? We’re already well behind schedule.”

“Your wrist crunching pal let us in,” I said.

The bald man turned to one of the red cloaks. “Dominic, is this true?”

The figure stepped forward hesitantly, leaving his cloak on. “They were persistent. Plus, they knew the password.”

The bald man sighed. His tattoo almost danced in the candlelight. “I bring this up every committee meeting. Why can’t we have the password changed on a regular basis?”

“It’s too hard for us to remember,” said Dominic meekly. “You try be on door duty once in a while. You’ll see.”

I groaned. “Guys, I appreciate your little dialogue here, but there’s a human sacrifice happening here. An illegal sacrifice. I’m going to call the police.”

Dominic stepped back into the circle and the bald man waved his hand to stop. “No, you can’t do that.”

“And why can’t I do that?”

“Because I… I, err.. don’t have an escape route.”

I nudged Frankie and whispered into her ear. “Psst, call the cops.”

She started dialling. I returned my attention to the unspeakable sight down below me.

“An escape route? Are you serious?” I asked.

“Well you don’t seriously think we’re going to wait around and get captured do you? Our victim is right down there,” he pointed.

“Victim? I sure hope you’re not planning on do anything,” I said.

“That’s the whole thing,” he said gesturing dramatically. “This was the whole plan and you interrupted us. We’re already running late and you waltz in acting like you own the place. Well excuse me, princess.”

Frankie crouched down out of view speaking on the phone in hushed tones.

“Princess?” I was genuinely insulted. “You come up here and say it to my face.”

The bald man looked concerned. “Uh, there’s actually no easy way to get from here to up there.”

“What do you mean? Your Dominic door-boy got down there lickety split.”

“Ah yes, I see your little mix up,” said the bald man. His lips curled.

“Knock knock,” said someone behind me. I whirled around to see a red hooded figure standing square between us and the exit. “You see darlings,” the British accent continued but from a much closer range. “I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together.” With both hands he carefully pulled down his hood to reveal a bald and tattooed face. It was him! I looked down to the bald man down below and back again to this new model.

“Jesus,” said Frankie, her mouth agape.

“It’s not p-possible,” I stammered.

“Oh you’d be surprised what a good sacrifice can get you these days.”

I shouted down to the circle of red cloaks below. “Show me your faces!”

“If you insist,” said the bald man down below. Altogether the group pulled down their hoods and revealed more tattooed heads. Even the one called Dominic.

“The one on the floor,” I demanded. “Show me.”

The bald man’s dagger clattered onto the concrete floor as he bent down to turn over the individual. It was himself, again. Another bald, tattooed man. This time naked and bound at the wrists and ankles, with a gag in his mouth. He didn’t look like he wanted to be there. His eyes were tearful.

“What is this shit?” I screamed. My voice bounced around the chamber walls.

“Now you go and insult our dark practices. Teens these days have no manners,” said the circle in unison.

“We’re sorry to bother you,” called out Frankie. “But we’ll be going now. Enjoy your, well, whatever gives you kicks.”

She started towards the exit, but the man in the doorway put a firm hand on her shoulder.

“You can’t go,” he said sternly. “I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together.”

The man gripped tighter. She struggled to break away. I ran up and tried to pry his arm free, but he was stone solid. I kicked him and he didn’t flinch. “Let her go!” I yelled. Something started happening to Frankie’s face. It became a puddle of pink skin. Her face melted away. “You sick bastards!” One by one facial features popped back onto her face. But these were not hers. No, they were his. His eyes, his twisted smile. That scar. Her hair fell away. The man dropped Frankie to the ground. But it wasn’t Frankie anymore. “We’ll get you both red cloaks, don’t you worry,” said the man in the doorway.

I dropped to Frankie’s side. “Frankie? Are you okay?”

Her– his eyes opened and he grabbed my shoulder, and she — he started speaking in that cartoony British accent, “I am he as you are he as you are me, and we are all together.”

The End.

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