by Kimberley Beldam
This is part of a short story collection I’m working on. Enjoy!
The Back Bedroom
The sound came again. Christine shifted in her seat, the springs of the blue couch creaking underneath her as she did. She tried hard to focus in on the book in her hands, clearing her throat softly as she started the paragraph again. She was three lines in when the sound broke her concentration once more. She lifted her head to listen, her blond streaked hair lighting on her shoulders.
At first it was a quiet thing, a creaking somewhere above her in the house. She had initially brushed it off as the house settling, it was an old house, after all, but now the sound grew.
Christine had moved in a few months prior, planning on gutting and remodeling the dilapidated structure. So far she had accomplished finishing just two rooms. One was the main room, which served temporarily as their front room, bedroom and a small kitchen, the second room, a small bathroom. The large room was wood-lined, with hardwood floors and a brick wall that held a fireplace, the only source of heat for the house. She was proud of how it had come out, speaking of the promise to come as she worked on the rest of the house.
As Christine continued reading her book, the sound came again, louder now. What had started as a soft, creaking, now sounded more like footsteps, somewhere above her, in the empty part of the house. Christine knew she was alone in the house. Her curiosity to explore the noises was curtailed by the fear of what she might find up there in the old, unused part of the house.
So instead, she buried herself in her book. She realized she had read the same passage four times when the creaking footsteps turned into a full-blown thump. Christine dropped the book into her lap and cast her eyes toward the ceiling as bits of dust rained down on her, evidence of real movement above her. A chill chased its way up her spine. Her dog, Mea, who had been sleeping on the couch beside her swaddled in a blanket looked up as well.
“You hear that too, huh?” Christine said.
Mea thumped her tail at the sound of her owner’s voice, then her tail stilled as she looked heavenward again, ears training on the sound above them.
Christine tried to rationalize the noises above her. It was probably a squirrel of a raccoon. They did live out in the country. Perhaps someone had gotten into the house? She sat quietly, staring at the ceiling, her book forgotten in her lap.
That’s when the talking started.
Initially it was little more than a whisper, perhaps the wind skirting through the cracks in the house, but in a few minutes Christine swore she could make out words, a woman’s voice. A flush of fear returned, spurred on when Mea let out a deep growl as the fur on her back lifted.
Christine rose from the couch, the book slipping to the floor with a thud. Mea leapt to her feet beside her, tail straight up. Christine stooped down to pet the short haired brindle dog.
“I guess we had better go check it out,” Christine said, trying to bolster herself with a sense of bravery she didn’t actually feel. “It’s probably just a stray cat or something.”
At the mention of the word ‘cat’ Mea cocked her head at Christine, her tail wagging. Christine walked quietly toward the bathroom that was attached to the main room. A small wooden door led from the finished part of the house into the old, unfinished part. She took a deep breath, steadying herself, before she pushed open the door.
The old part of the house was cold, the air hung still in the air, stagnant. Christine suddenly wished she had thought to pull on a sweater, it was winter outside and the unheated portion of the house was bone chilling. She wrapped her arms around herself as she and Mea walked along the main floor. Tools and building material sat strewn about the main floor, a testament to the unfinished work, halted by the cold temperatures. Christine and Mea picked their way through the debris, pausing to listen every few steps.
The bottom floor was empty.No wayward animals or squatters to be found.
Just as Christine stepped onto the first steps of the staircase that led to the upstairs, the noises came again. A soft whisper, a shuffling sound. It was definitely coming from upstairs. Christine turned to look down at her brindle dog, who wagged her tail briefly at her owners glance, then stared up the staircase.
“Come on,” Christine said to Mea, who sat down on the landing at the bottom of the stairs instead. “You’re not coming up?” Christine asked. Mea thumped her tail against the dusty hardwood but stayed where she was, a soft whine bubbling in her throat.
Christine shrugged, took a deep breath and started up the stairs.
With each step the sounds grew louder and louder. She could now discern someone talking, it sounded like it was coming from the back bedroom. She grabbed the handle of a sledgehammer that was resting on the stairs as she continued to creep her way up.
She paused at the top of the stairs, listening in on the sounds emanating from the back bedroom. She looked down the staircase at Mea, whose ears were pinned back nervously. She walked down the hallway to the bedroom, Mea and the first floor landing disappearing from view. Her soft whines the only reminder of her presence below.
Christine extended a shaking hand toward the tarnished brass doorknob, lifting the sledgehammer onto her should as the voice on the other side of the door giggled and whispered. A lump formed in her as she steeled her nerves and turned the knob. She forced her should softly against the door and then thrust it open.
The room beyond was empty. The dust-covered chandelier swung with the rush of air from the opened door as Christine quickly scanned the room. There were no other exits, the only other door in the room leading to the large closet. Christine took another ragged breath in, her pulse pounding in her ears as she stepped across the room toward the closet door. She raised the sledgehammer above her, like a baseball bat ready to swing, before reaching forward and pulling open the closet door.
It too was empty.
Christine breathed a sigh of relief and dropped the sledgehammer to the floor, its heavy weight causing a ring of dust and drywall bits to jump and dance skyward. She giggled to herself as she turned to leave. The old house and her vivid imagination had taken her for a bit of a ride tonight. Clearly there was no one in the room, she must have just been hearing the wind, she told herself.
Christine left the bedroom, pulling the door closed behind her, then descended the stairs to the wiggling, wagging, welcoming Mea on the landing below.
“Chicken,” she said to the brindle dog, as she ran her hand over the dog’s soft head. Together they returned to the finished part of the house, Christine pulling the wooden door closed behind her, blocking the old from the new.
The warmth of the fire flooded over her as she plunked down on the couch, pulling her book from the floor and wrapping herself in the plush throw Mea had been nestled in.
She returned to her reading and was completely absorbed in her book when Mea let out a soft, low growl. Christine turned to look at the dog, who seemed to peer past her, to something just beyond her.
Christine was just about to turn her head to see what the dog was looking at, when the hair on the back of her neck jumped to attention, and her arms prickled as a soft sound broke through the stillness of the room.
“I love that book,” the voice whispered into Christine’s ear.