Chapter no 19

The Locked Door

26 Years Earlier

The door to the basement creaks loudly as I push it open.

The basement is completely dark. I expected my father to be working down here, because of all the noise. But he’s obviously not working in the dark. That would be weird.

I reach out and flick on the lights.

I’ve never been in the basement of our house. It’s a damp, square room with concrete walls that are unpainted. Even though I turned on the light, it’s still very dark down here—the lighting is from a single naked bulb hanging from the ceiling. There is, unsurprisingly, a workbench set up in the corner of the room. I don’t know why I expected to see anything different. It’s a long wooden bench and does have something that sort of looks like a motorized saw on it, so I guess that’s what I heard earlier. There’s a hammer also. But there are also some weird things I wouldn’t expect to be on a tool bench.

Like, for example, there’s a knife. A long, razor-sharp knife that glints under the dim light of the single light bulb. Also, there’s a big bottle of bleach on the table. Why would he need bleach for making furniture?

And there’s a big spray bottle of lavender-scented air freshener.

But the weirdest thing is all the stains on the table. All the stains are brownish. It must be paint. I guess maybe he’s painting everything brown?

The entire basement stinks of lavender. It’s clinging to every surface of the room. But that other smell is even stronger—the one that smells like something is rotting.

It smells awful. Like something died down here.

The other weird thing is there isn’t any furniture that my father is working on. Even though he’s been down here every evening this week, I don’t see one chair or desk and bookcase in progress. So what exactly has he been building down here? I mean, he’s been doing something.

As I’m staring down at my father’s bench, I hear a noise from behind me. I jump and whirl around. But there’s nothing there.

And then I hear it again. A muffled sound. A human sound.

That’s when I see it. Way in the darkest corner of the basement, there’s some sort of box or crate, covered in a sheet. Whatever the noise is, it’s coming from under the sheet.

I step quietly across the room. My footsteps sound so loud, but it shouldn’t matter. I’m here alone. Right?

When I’m a foot away from the crate, I stop. I just stand there for a moment, staring at it. Then I hear that muffled sound again. There’s something alive in there. An animal? But no, it doesn’t sound like animal noises.

I take a deep breath and reach for the sheet. I tug on it until the edge lifts off the ground. I can see now that it wasn’t a crate after all. It’s a cage. A rectangular cage with metal bars surrounding it. And then I catch a flash of a blue eye peeking under the sheet.

“Hello, Nora.”

I release the sheet and jump away from the cage, my heart pounding. I stare up the staircase and my father’s silhouette fills the doorway. His eyes look like they’re glowing.

“I… I’m sorry,” I stammer. “I… the door was…”

Dad’s footsteps land heavily on the stairs as he descends them. I thought my own footsteps were loud, but his sound like gunshots. “You were curious.”

“Yes,” I say in a tiny voice.

He reaches the bottom step, his dark eyes looking into mine. “So what do you think?”

Even after drinking all that water in the kitchen, my mouth is dry. “I…”

My father runs his hand along the wood of his tool bench. “Out of everyone in the world,” he says, “I thought that you would understand. You’re like me, Nora. I see it in you.”

And now I finally get it. He didn’t forget to lock the door to the basement. He wanted me to come down here. He wanted me to see this.

He’s still looking down at me. We look a lot alike, my dad and me.

Same black hair. Same dark eyes. People always know we’re related.

“There’s so much for you to learn,” he murmurs. “There’s so much I want to teach you.”

I glance over at the cage with the cover over it. I hear another muffled sound from inside. Like almost a scream.

“You want to learn,” he says, “don’t you?” I nod slowly. “Yes,” I manage.

“Good.” He looks down on his watch. “Go back to sleep, Nora. It’s too late right now. But soon our lessons will begin. I promise you.”

He walks me back up the steps of the basement. When we get to the top, he shuts the door behind me. And locks it.

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