“PHOTOGRAPHS OF MADNESS: INSIDE OUT” ‘Part Four: Cellar Silence’ By Alec Ivan Fugate

On the Evening of November 24th, 2018, From the Eyes of Lauren Roy

 

Right before dinner I get to the research for my school’s paper. The task is to delve into some history about the city. The best article will be featured on the front page. This has involved a lot of digging, and a lot of missed homework assignments for other classes, but it’ll be worth it, I’m sure.

The city was founded some 200 years ago in a flurry of killjoy pilgrim nonsense. Started with a general store, a couple acres of farms, and just about forty or fifty people building their own homes and hopes and living happily together until one November when a sickness struck the town, still early in its development. There were no doctors who could handle such an outbreak so the population disintegrated in a gradual way, starting with one or two people with fevers and ending with just about everybody vomiting in their beds, decaying. There are rumors of a farmer, penchant for harvesting spices in particular, family of seven, whose lover in a previous town was practiced in medical procedure. She was their only hope, and so by extension his letters to her were their only hope. Legend goes that he wrote and wrote and wrote and never received a response. He watched his family wither away. Saw them in the holds of death. The senior class tells a tale at spooky Halloween parties every year, per tradition. They say that the man went mad, took matters into his own hands, and personally struck down every member of his family in mercy as they slept in cold sweats.

“Laury?”  my baby sister, Emily, calling from the doorway to my bedroom.

“Yeah, hon?”

“What are you doing?”

“Just writing a paper, what are you doing?”

“Asking what you’re doing.”

I turn around. “Cool. Hey, do they have you write papers in kindergarten at all?”

She shakes her head, looking frustratingly happy.

“Well, just so you know, writing papers is a lot of hard work. It means you have to really concentrate. Do you know what I mean?”

“I dunno.”

“I means I need you to leave me to my work for just a couple hours.”

Pouty face and puppy eyes, “But I really wanna hang out with you! We haven’t watched a movie in forever!”

“I’ll tell you what: after I’m done with this, how about we watch whatever movie you want, okay?”

“Whichever one?”

“Whichever one.”

Emily furrows her brow, thinking about which movie she’d like best to see, nods a lot, and says, cryptically, “Okay then!” She scurries out and into her room, her long blond hair stringing out behind her silly pink slippers.

Back to work then.

This is where the story gets ridiculous, in my opinion, but it’ll be good for the paper: he evidently was so attached to his grief, stricken with guilt, that in a laudanum dream the night after the murders he constructed a family of black owls to watch over him lest God strike him down for his misdeeds. In a way, according to several analyses of this folktale, this was a form of contending with, confessing to, his crime. The other townsfolk wouldn’t be so easily fixed; they hung him the morning after.

The interesting part, though , is that his home was apparently built right where my family and I live in our apartment on Little Street. Even though their creator was dead, the black owls were rumored to survive in their home, staying in one place, looking after not the body of the man but the site of the family’s last moments. Over time the cabin was destroyed to make room for an apartment building in the 20s. A woman was found dead in the closet of the only bedroom then, and the site was presumed to be haunted. In the 60s another body was found in the same closet with severe acidic burns. In the 80s this whole side of town was abandoned because of the population’s refusal to gentrify, and soon fell into disrepair. The 90s brought another two bodies to the apartment even though the building was condemned, and up until two years ago when they rebuilt and refurbished every apartment in this place the entire street was assumed to be some sort of mystical zone not to set foot in around this time of year.

Because of all this, my friends won’t come to our place, Apt. 1, even though I tell them they changed the numbering when they reconstructed and that technically this is Apt. 2 in the original plans.

“Laury?”

“What’s up, babydoll?”

“Do you know what Mom and Dad are making for dinner tonight?”

“I’m not sure. I think it’s just spaghetti.”

“Hmmmm. Okay!”

“Is that all you wanted to ask me, Em?”

“No, um, when will you be done working?”

“Well, I’m just in the research part now. I still need to write the thing.”

“So when will you be done, though?”

“Sometime after dinner.”

“Fine,” more pouting.

“Hey, Em?”

“What?”

“I love ya!”

Emily sighs dramatically, turns around and right before she walks out: “Love you too.”

In a weird way, I love it when she comes in here to bother me. I must be really cool to her; she’s sneaking out of her room, the Grounded Station, when she needs to stay put for pushing that other girl down the steps at school. I blush, think to myself aw, little Em loves me!

Right. Paper.

There are tiny details in this lore that I need to remember for the paper, like a trapdoor in the closet that, whenever the police inspected it, they couldn’t quite open no matter how many tools they brought with them. It was thought that there was a killer who was using the door to lure victims into a lair of sorts, but that falls apart when you think, you know, what type of hatch could only be opened by one person?

I’ve had conversations within my circles about what I think it would have been, and though I’m no expert, I think it’s a metaphysical thing, if we’re going with the whole supernatural vibe. That maybe something happened to those people in whichever space the hatch entombs. Maybe it waits for a specific kind of person. I don’t know. Again, not an expert. All I really know for sure is they expanded and added another bedroom to every first and second floor apartment, and that the apartment that was originally Apt. 1 had no trace of the hatch when the builders were working on it, so who knows who was telling the truth all these years, which rumors were legitimate, what was lore and what was just some tonic the city feeds itself to keep us all from killing each other.

Knocks on the door, tap tap. Dad.

“It’s time for dinner, Lauren hon. I already told your sister and she said she was starving so hurry on into the kitchen!”

“Thanks, Dad. Be right there.”

The three of us set the table and sit down, wait for the late party to show up. Starving, my ass.

“Never noticed that there,” Dad says, pointing to a corner of the wall.

“What is it?”

“It’s like a stain, or something.”

I see it. The corner has this small, superblack spot tucked into it, like a watermark gone stale.

“Where do you think that came from?” Mom asks.

Dad rolls his eyes. “Probably Old Lady Hatch running her bathtub over the edge again. I’ll talk to her tomorrow, see what I can do.”

“Funny,” Mom says, squinting. “Looks kinda like a bird if you close your eyes a bit.”

Dad: “Yeah,” trails off. “Where’s your sister, she pouting again?”

“Probably,” I laugh. “I’ll go get her, be right back.”

I knock on Emily’s door, wait for an answer.

“Come on, Em, it’s Laury. It’s time for dinner…don’t make me come in there to tickle you out here!”

Nothing.

I open the door ready to get her, but her bed is empty.

I go to swing open the closet doors. She hides there a lot when she’s upset.

But she’s not there, either.

Instead there’s just an open trap door leading to oily blackness, gaping, like a mouth waiting to eat.

 

THE END


Alec Ivan Fugate is some guy sitting in some swamp in some city in northeastern Indiana. His work is floating at Occulum, Burning House Press, Bending Genres, and other darker, spookier ponds

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