This story is one of the March Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
“Ok. You’re all set. Mind the stairs.”
He drops the keys into my hand, turns, and walks back to his car.
Mind the stairs? I glance over at the bungalow I’ve just bought. I knew he looked high. I reach down and pat Kenny’s head, trying to reassure myself. There’s nothing scary about a new start.
Looking down at the set of keys I’ve just been handed, I notice the labels. The first key reads “front door,” the second reads “back door,” and the third, which is an older, smaller key, has no label. I guess I’ll find out what it’s used for once I go inside. I reach down and unlatch the gate, swinging it forward as it creaks, and rust flakes off in my hands. Immediately Kenny’s ears go back, and he starts barking. There’s a ladder leaning against the wall, and I quickly duck under it to get to the door.
“Hey. It’s okay. Good boy.” This is Kenny’s first time at the new house; he’s probably just a little overwhelmed with all the new sounds and smells.
I walk in the front door, and with Kenny close behind. The hallway is eerily silent, my path to the other rooms partially obscured by the stacks of boxes and baskets full of my things. Sidestepping, I move past the boxes into the kitchen. I put the kettle on, making my way to the living room. I settle down in the front room and switch the television on. Once the kettle is boiled, I go to one of the boxes marked “kitchen” and grab a couple of mugs. I reach up and open a cupboard, with the intention of putting the mugs in, when something catches my eye. Part of the wood is missing from the inside of the door, and the letters etched there look like initials. “D” is definitely the first letter, and as I stretch up to peer at the other two, I realise it reads “D.O.B.”
D.O.B? what does that mean? Date of birth? I abandon the tea to go back and sit in the living room to do a quick Google search. All the top results feature my first thought: date of birth. I try again, this time including the name of my new house. The first article that pops up reads “Mulberry Ghost.” Curiously, I click on it. Mulberry. That’s the name of my road. Reading through the article, I learn that local folklore states that this house was the site of a mid-18th-century murder. D.O.B are in fact initials. The initials of the victim’s sister, in fact. The article says that hers is the spirit that haunts the road, seeking justice for her sister.
I shiver, a little freaked out now, and pat Kenny’s head to reassure myself. I continue reading until I see the line: “Some say her sister was killed in the basement, with walls thick enough to block out any screaming.”
The basement? As far as I know, a bungalow is supposed to have only one floor. I flashback to what the estate agent said: “Mind the stairs.” The stairs? I get up, nervous now.
I must find the basement.
I run around the house, banging on the walls in search of any sort of door or hole or anything. The bungalow isn’t very big, and it’s not long before I find myself back in the living room, my search fruitless.
In my desperation I start searching the floor for anything. Maybe the article is wrong. I mean, it is just local folklore, which isn’t exactly reliable. But what I can’t shake is his parting comment. The estate agent knew about the stairs, the basement. So, it must be real.
I’m crawling around on my knees now, and it’s not long before I whack my knee on something, probably the sofa leg. Rubbing my knee, I sit up and try to think. Where could it be? Did the estate agent say anything else? Maybe I should call the agency. Just as I’m reaching for my phone, Kenny starts scratching at my leg.
“Hey, good boy. What is it?” I stand up and move the corner of the rug I was sitting on.
Oh. No. Pushing back the sofa, I pull up the rug to discover a brass lock attached to some sort of wooden lid. A trapdoor.
I try to pull it open, but it is locked and sealed tight.
I sit back, trying to think. The key. The third key.
I reach into my pocket and grab the keys.
The third key fits into the lock. And the lock clicks.
I lift the door, and the hinges squeak, stiff with age.
Tapping the torch on my phone, I aim it down, into the darkness.
I lean forward.