“I wasn’t really scared when you saw the circles, I was curious. What was it? And what did it want? I always knew death, aliens, ghosts were outside the house; but when they became part of our lives, you know, you just…your mother instinct kicks in and you’ll do whatever it takes to fight these things.”
“Think you’re gonna beat the whole game tonight?”
Sal pushed his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “I could.” He waited for the level to load before his eyes darted across the screen that—even with his prescription—was still blurred a bit. He managed to make out shapes and colors that were familiar from practice enough to know when to force the monkey on the Super Nintendo to jump, duck or when to switch partners.
Brandy was at his side with her legs folded around a bowl of heavily buttered and salted popcorn. She stuffed her mouth full, unintentionally chewing voraciously. Her eyes remained glued to the television as she analyzed her little brother’s decisions and assessed how she would have done it differently. His motions were always swift with the intention of succeeding at speeds no other child his age could.
On the couch behind them, Deborah had Danny and Sara tucked under her arms, a book cradled in each of their little hands. They were silently reading to themselves, occasionally beckoning for help on an unknown word.
This was her family. Deborah’s tiny little reasons that she woke up in the morning, the innocent reasons that she…
What’s that sound?
BANG! BANG! BANG!
“Bran, mute the TV for a sec.”
Deborah sat up to fine tune her hearing to the abstract metal-on-metal banging she thought she had heard. When the African themed music of the video game was silenced, the house lingered in an eerie unusual quietness.
Then it happened again.
BANG! BANG-BANG! BANG!
Every one of her children’s eyes widened into horrified gazes.
“What is that?” Brandy said.
Deborah was on her feet following the sound. She slowly approached the bedrooms just down the hall, but the banging only seemed to fade the further away from her children she drew. When she was back in the living room, she realized the sound was muffled, but the loudest.
“Mom,” Sal said with his ear pressed to the floor. “It’s coming from under us.”
All five members of the family dropped to their hands and knees to listen. Even with only the floor separating them from the crawlspace beneath the house, the noises were indistinguishable.
“It sounds like someone’s banging on pipes,” Brandy said.
“Hitting a pipe with another pipe,” Sal said.
“Kids, stay here.” Deborah rushed to the floor. She dialed her neighbor’s number. “Hey, Dan. Sorry to call so late. Something’s going on at my house. It sounds like someone’s down in the crawlspace banging on stuff. Can you come over and check it out?”
Dan Dan the Fireman lived three houses down with his two sons and teenage daughter. A balding, forty-year-old man that she wouldn’t leave any of her daughters with. But a last resort in the dead of night.
“Yeah, Deb. I’ll be over in a minute.”
Deborah returned to her children. “Dan’s coming to check it out.”
“Who do you think is down there?” Brandy said.
“I don’t know. Could be anybody,” Deborah said. The truth was the best weapon a parent could ever arm their children with. Scare tactics only make them weak in the presence of the truth. They deserved to know the world wasn’t always a pleasant place.
“Though, I don’t know what they’d be trying to accomplish from under the house. It’s not connected directly to the house and there’s nothing under there. We checked that out already.”
“Yeah,” Sal said.
Ten minutes of banging passed before knocks sounded at the front door. Deborah checked that it was Dan before letting him in hurriedly. Dan wielded a flashlight in one hand and a baseball bat in the other.
“What’s going on exactly?”
Two minutes of silence passed before the banging answered all Dan’s questions.
“Sounds like someone’s going to town down there.”
Deborah guided him tot he backdoor and switched the porch light on. Light flooded the small, square cement porch and the large yard with no place to hide. The crawlspace was directly to the right of the backdoor. So once Dan stepped out, he risked confronting whoever was down there.
“Be careful,” Deborah said.
“You keep the kids in here.”
Dan stepped out. Deborah clutched the screen door so as not to let it creak and give Dan away. Dan was stealthy for a tall, beer-gut toting man. His footsteps were light as an angel’s when he stepped from the patio to the dirt. He twisted the board blocking the crawlspace and lowered himself inside. Deborah crossed her fingers and hoped for his safety.
A few minutes later, there were knocks on the back door. “Deb, it’s me. It’s safe.”
The kids swarmed their mother’s side eagerly.
“What was it? Animal?” Deborah said from the porch.
“There wasn’t anything living down there. No person, no animal. I would have seen an animal scamper out.”
“So then what was it? You heard it, too, right?” Deborah said.
“Yeah, I heard it.” Dan tipped his cap back. “I don’t know what to tell you. I didn’t fit down there entirely. My feet hung out, so I couldn’t imagine a grown person hiding in there somewhere. And this here’s the only way in and out it looks like, so…” He blew a puff of hot breath to signal his confusion. “They were hitting pretty hard. Those pipes, but nothin’s loose down there to be banging. I did find something.” He glanced at the kids who were hovered at the door.
“Kids go in the house,” Deborah said. “Go on.”
Brandy nudged her siblings inside.
Deborah waited until she knew they a safe distance away to follow Dan to the crawlspace. He ducked inside, and sure enough he didn’t fit all the way in. Deborah was only five foot five and her children just under that, so they all fit in that space. But a grown man? It wouldn’t have been possible.
“When my bat fell, it broke through this hole and I found some stuff buried in it.”
Dan lifted up an old-fashioned step ladder that had been rusted with time followed by some rusted tools that dated back to the Victorian era. And finally, he brought up with his bare hands a pile of bones. Large bones that perhaps appeared human.
Deborah instantly felt a quirk in her stomach. “Are those—human?”
“I don’t know. You’d best take them to a doctor and have them figure it out. Doesn’t look like an animal I’ve ever seen. I hunt, so you can trust that. But human, could be.”
“Let’s leave ’em by the porch. I don’t want them in the house with the kids.”
“With all that’s been going on lately, I’m not taking my chances, Dan.”
Dan stacked the bones beside the porch. He dusted off his hands and reset the board over the crawlspace. Gathering his bat and flashlight, he headed inside. Deborah faced the darkness of her backyard wishing she looked more territorial than shriveled in fear. She dropped her arms and turned it, letting the screen door smack behind her.