It’s Darker Down Here
By Paul Freeman
“Don’t go up there. Please, stay here with us,” the woman pleaded with her husband. She looked over his shoulder at a wooden staircase stretching up into the darkness.
The man cupped her cheek in the palm of his hand, wiped away a tear with his thumb before brushing her hair back from her face.
“I have to. Our food is running low, our water, we are almost out of candles. We can’t stay in this basement in the dark. It’s okay, they’ve gone, we haven’t heard anything for hours.” They both looked up at the ceiling, imagining the trashed house above, the creaking floorboards they had listened to every day since they had locked themselves away, the scratching at the door.
“What if they come back?” she sniffed.
“They won’t get me. They are slow and dumb, I will be long gone before they have a chance to catch me,” he reassured her.
“Don’t go, Papa.” A small girl clung to her father’s leg.
He scooped her into his arms and kissed her cheek. “How about if I bring back some candy for my baby girl?”
“Candy!” the girl beamed. The man smiled and kissed her again.
“Lock this door behind me, don’t open it for any reason until you are sure it’s me,” he instructed his wife before climbing the stairs to the door at the top of the basement.
“Please be careful,” she said kissing him and quickly closing the door, not daring to even look out into the house which was once their home.
“What’s in-feck-shun?” the little girl asked when her mother came back down into the cramped basement. She sat in a chair and took the girl onto her lap.
“It’s a sickness, Honey,” she answered.
“Was Grandma sick when she tried to eat Grandpa?” the little girl asked, her round eyes open wide.
“Yes, Baby, she was sick.” The woman wiped away tears from her cheek with the back of her hand.
“And was Mikey in-feck-shun when he tried to grab me?”
“Infected, Honey. Yes he was, he was sick too.” The woman remembered grabbing her daughter from the path of the neighbours twelve year old boy as he shuffled towards her, his mouth all red as if he’d been eating berries. The bodies of his parents lying on the porch told her he had not been feasting on strawberries.
“Is the whole world sick, Mama, even the people on the TV?”
“No, Baby, there’s lots of people like us, just waiting to be rescued. Why don’t you sleep now.” The woman began to sing then and gently rock her child. “Hush little baby don’t say a word, Papa’s gonna buy you a mocking bird…”
She started to doze herself but was woken by a loud crash coming from upstairs. The girl woke with a start and her mother put a hand over her mouth.
“What is it, Mama, are the monsters back?”
“They’re not monsters, Honey, just people who are sick.” Although she said the words to her daughter she was not so sure herself.
“I don’t want Papa to get me candy,” the girl said, tears glistened in her eyes.
“Why not, Baby, don’t you like candy anymore?”
“What if the sick people catch him while he’s looking for candy? Then it’ll be all my fault, and he wont come back.”
“Hey, hey, who’s the strongest man in the whole world?”
“He sure is, he can throw you up like you don’t weigh nothin’, and you’ve gotten so big I can barely lift you.”
“And he can swing me over his shoulder,” the girl grinned.
“Sure he can, aint no sick people as strong as your daddy.” Girl and mother jumped when they heard a thud on the door.
“Mama!” the girl screeched.
“Shhhhh, Baby, remember what we said? quiet as a mouse.” The woman put a finger to her own lips and the girl nodded.
“It’s Papa,” the girl whispered excitedly.
The woman lifted the child and put her on the seat while she crept up the stairs.
“And if that mocking bird don’t sing, Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring,” the girl sung quietly, her legs swinging back and forth.
“Is that you, Honey?” the woman whispered at the door.
She could feel her heart quickening, her breath catching in her throat. Was it him? What if he was injured and needed help.
“And if that diamond ring turns brass, Papa’s gonna buy you a looking glass.”
She eased the door open a crack and looked out. Her husband had his back to the door, but it was him, she recognised the red shirt he was wearing when he left. She exhaled a breath of relief and flung open the door.
“And if that looking glass gets broke, Papa’s gonna buy you a billy goat.”
The first thing the woman noticed as her husband turned around was the smell. A sweet, sickly smell of putrefying flesh. When she looked into his milk-white, dead eyes, she jumped back in fright and tumbled head over heels down the stairs.
“Mama?” the girl jumped off the chair as her mother crashed into the basement and lay still.
“No, Papa…. NOOOOO!!!!!!!”