Below the Surface, Continued (Fifth Installment)
A big flash of the fluorescent light overhead jolted Steven back to the present. He stared at the access point again, hoping for some kind of answer to either what happened back then or what was happening now. The door offered him nothing, just the coldness and silence of the cement crusting the inside of the door. Steven shook it off, picked up the air conditioner and made his way up the basement stairs and back to the main part of the house.
He closed the basement door with his foot and heard it creak shut. He struggled with the weight of the machine in his hands as he made his way up the staircase to the second floor, stopping once to re-position his hands while leaning on the banister. He finally made it to the top of the steps, sweat beading on his forehead as he turned to go down the hall towards the master bedroom. As he twisted the doorknob to open the door, he could swear he heard the basement door creak open and closed as he went in. He rested the conditioner on his bed as he stopped and listened again, walking lightly to the doorway so he could hear better. Nothing. He turned back into the room, picked up the air conditioner and grunted as he worked it towards the window. It took a little work, but he was able to stabilize it in the window frame and closed the window on to the top of the unit to secure it in place. As he positioned the side panels of the air conditioner to seal it off, he could see out into the entire backyard. He could swear he saw someone looking back up at him and then quickly dart into the garden on the path when he looked back. He didn’t get a good enough look to see who it was, but it was definitely someone.
Steven raced out of the bedroom and down the steps, taking two and three at a time until he reached the bottom and stumbled, rapping his knee on the banister. He kept going at full speed as he slid across the kitchen floor, this time whacking his elbow on the corner of the stove. Steven could feel a chunk of skin fly off his elbow as he hit. He briefly grabbed at his elbow and then kept moving out the back door and across the lawn to the garden path. He reached the path, breathing heavily, and slowed down, trying to move quietly and rapidly looking around for something, anything. He kept moving down the path, but he saw nothing and heard nothing, just the sound of the wind rustling the leaves. He came upon the barren patch of earth again and saw that it looked exactly as it had before. Steven looked around for clues of anyone being there, but all he could make out were footprints in the earth, probably from himself, Oscar and the other workers. He walked further down the path to a small clearing near the edge of the woods where Oscar had set up a compost pile. There was nothing here. Steven took a few steps and peered out into the woods, but he couldn’t see anything through the dense brush. There was no way someone could have worked through there easily and quickly. As Steven turned to go back up the path towards the house his stubbed his foot on a tree root near the compost pile and fell. “This just keeps getting better,” he thought to himself as he pushed himself up, feeling his knee ache and his elbow throb. He stopped as his arms had extended themselves to brace him before he stood. Something had caught his attention. There in the soft earth just short of the compost pile, unmistakably, was one very small footprint.
Steven quickly rose and hurried down the path towards the house, looking all around him as he went. He didn’t take time to pause at the scorched spot this time and went straight towards the house towards the basement access door. He was so unsure about everything at this point, what had been real, what was real and what wasn’t. He slowed down as he reached the door and just took a moment to stare at it. He then moved closer and examined it. Although it was rusted and worn and caked with dirt and cement, and if you didn’t know to look for it you miss it, but there, without a doubt, near the handle was a small, rusted rut in the metal. The scratch was real and it was still there.
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