Black and White – Charlie Chitty
February 23, 2021
The Creature Under the Stairs
I heard the noise from the cupboard under the stairs again. It wasn’t an ominous sound, like the creaking of uncoiled machinery like in the movies. The door hinge was fine. But I could hear a light tap as the door handle hit the downstairs wall.
I pulled myself out of bed, the downy comforter feeling like a lead weight. My feet touched the bare hardwood flooring and curled. It was freezing.
I checked the alarm by the side of the bed that showed a cluster of lazily glowing red lines.
It had happened last week. I felt a pressure pushing down inside my head, as if something was coming back to me. I heard a rap on my bedroom door and opened it.
Carin stood there in her nightie, sucking her thumb with Mr Stuffins under her arm. Her hair stuck on end.
She pulled her thumb briefly from her mouth.
She pointed to the stairs.
I held the bridge of my nose, trying to ignore the building migraine as she stares up at me. I don’t know why she always looks at me like that, a mixture of worry and wonder. The childish thought that there was both a horrible beast downstairs mixed with the idea that I could stop it if it was there.
Kids are interesting.
She tottered to the stairs and that’s when I felt a twinge of anxiety. She’d just gotten out of bed and I was worried she’d fall down the stairs. I left my room and watched as she moved down the darkened stairs, no longer concerned about the ‘momster’ now that she’d woken me up. I followed her.
When I reached the landing, I flicked on the lights, illuminating nothing at all. Some stained wallpaper and the shag pile carpet that was popular sometime back in the 80’s. I wriggled my toes in the fibrous carpet, feeling them warm up after the wood flooring of my bedroom and the cold threadbare staircase.
Carin pointed to the open door under the staircase.
“It down. It down there.”
I peered down into the blackness. Down there was the cellar. Tools I didn’t use, Christmas ornaments I took out once a year, a few things I’d borrowed from friends over the years and they’d moved away before I could return them. I was kinda disorganised like that.
But no beastie. No monster, no zombie, mummy or vampire.
I closed the door.
Carin slapped it and crossed her arms angrily across her chiffon nightie. She stomped her foot in the way that only a five year old can.
“Big bruver. Momster. Down there. Go down and tell big meanie monster off!”
I could feel another headache coming on. I sifted around in the pocket of my pyjamas pants, my hand coming out empty.
I thought of my aspirin, sitting in the little bottle, upstairs and next to my lovely warm bed.
“I’m not going down there, Carin. There’s no monster, okay? If you want, I can tuck you in and read to you if you want, but I’m not spending my night wandering around a basement. The floor is stone, my feet are cold and there’s probably stuff all over the floor. Maybe the monster will trip or something.”
Carin giggled at that. “Trippin’ momster.”
I nodded. “Exactly. He’s probably falling over things. We don’t need to go down there and take care of him.”
Carin looked straight up at me. She smiled, revealing a thin row of slowly growing baby teeth. “You do, big bruver. You do.”
She pulled open the door under the stairs. I recoiled slightly at how her little five year old arm was able to pull open such a heavy door.
It bounced off the wall and I hissed a “Shh!” at her.
Mum was upstairs and I could hear feet walking above us, the ancient floorboards creaking.
The tap in the bathroom ran, and then turned off.
The same floorboards creaked and the stillness downstairs was broken ever so slightly by the sound of bedsprings as I heard her climb back into bed.
Carin tapped on the door, rapped her knuckles and laughed.
“Down you go!”
I looked down at her. She’s five, and I’m twenty five. She’s three feet and a half feet tall and I’m about five foot nine.
But I felt a chill in my veins as if I was staring down something hundreds of feet taller, with thousands more years on me. There was something in her eyes, the way they twinkled with a twilight madness. Black marbles set deep into brooding black sockets. My headache was back.
I shook it off. She’s my sister. She’s young, she’s tired, and she’s frightened of something downstairs. I took a pause. Was I frightened of something downstairs? Not exactly. I was frightened of something else. What it meant for something to be down there. When Carin-
I felt another blistering headache and almost fell over.
“Are you okay there?” Carin asked.
I tussled her hair. “Course.”
She looked up at me, sceptically. “If you’re not willing to go down, I guess I can.”
I reached out to grab her hand, but she was already tottering down the cellar steps into the blackness. I ran after her, taking the stairs two at a time.
The stairs themselves twisted and turned, seeming to spiral down for an age. My heart froze as I realised that I couldn’t remember going down to the cellar before. And that meant there could be anything down there. Including-
I pushed the idea to the back of my head. My little three year old sister was down there.
Eventually, the stairway broke into a small chamber. My heart stopped its drumbeat as I spotted the cobweb-spotted christmas tree, the tattered box of ornaments and a hedge trimmer I’d borrowed from Zack before he went off to active duty. I’d never really got it, but he was pretty enthusiastic about fighting the Vietnamese.
The dank basement was gloomy, but otherwise empty. Carin stood in the middle of it, pointing at a broom cupboard.
My heart started thudding again. I knew I’d have to open the broom cupboard. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to. My legs were no longer mine. My hands were acting by themselves.
I reached out to the handle and pulled.
The wooden cupboard exploded into fragments of wood. The Ford Ranger smashed through to the other side, the headlights throwing blinding light to every corner of the basement.
I heard Carin scream as my head started to thrum with pain and my heart started to thud so fast it felt as if it was rattling. The shrill horn flooded the basement as I sprinted to the stairs, taking them three at a time, tripping over my feet, sprawling, tears running down my face as I crawled to safety.
I slammed the door to the cupboard under the stairs and ran to bed, no longer caring if I’d woken anyone else up. I clambered into bed and reached a trembling hand to my aspirin. I took half the bottle.
My eyes drifting.
I could feel the rest of myself drifting away.
I can still hear the horn.
The Creature Up the Stairs
Miriam Donovan heard it all. The noise downstairs, the talking, the screaming, the slamming of the bedroom door.
She climbed out of her double bed. Bradley was still, snoring straight through it.
Pretty typical of him, all things considered.
She stood on the landing and peered down below. She’d pretended not to hear him. Went to the bathroom, ran the tap, hoped he’d come back to bed, but he’d still gone down to the basement.
She blamed herself in a way. The therapy wasn’t exactly cheap and neither was the medication, that he refused to take until she’d taken matters into her own hands.
Chris’s room was on the far end of the hall. She opened the door to his room and saw him lying still.
She picked up his ‘aspirin’ bottle and gave it a shake. Half empty. Knocked himself out on anti-psychotics. She sat at the end of the bed and watched the rise and fall of her son’s chest.
A thin rain pattered against the window. She fiddled with the label on the bottle of pills, trying to neaten the Aspirin label over the one below. She felt hot tears spilling down her face.
“It wasn’t your fault.” she said.
The words leave her mouth, and then they are gone. They do not stick around Chris’s room and as she looks at her sleeping child she wonders if maybe they had gone into his ear, perhaps into his dream, and perhaps into his dreams. His psyche. His unconscious.
Or perhaps not.
She leaves his room and unceremoniously walked downstairs to check the door that had been slammed every other day this month and headed towards the kitchen.
She told herself she’d cut down, but knew she never would.
She pulled the bottle of vodka from the top cupboard, just next to the packets of instant mash and tins of oxtail soup. She poured herself a generous glut in a glass, took the glass, popped it into the cupboard and then sat at the kitchen table with the remaining bottle.
She took a quick swig as she watched the rain outside, watering her garden. It had been a dry summer and so she was grateful for something small. Although she couldn’t quite understand why she was happy to such a terrible world that would create a gigantic truck that would mow over her five year old daughter.
Chris had jumped to save her, but had come up short. His body crumpled against the side gigantic truck as it… rolled on… and…
Miriam took another swig from the bottle. It was emptying fast.
The rain outside was dying out and the full moon peered out from behind the clouds.
The moonlight shone like truck headlight into the small kitchen where an elderly mother sat and drank vodka through the night.
She thought of Carin and her entire life. Five years wasn’t fair, no matter which way you cut it. The driver was drunk. Five years inside. Five for five, but still. That wasn’t right.
The clouds kept drifting, and a few more hazy rain spells spat from the sky as the night went on. At one point a pigeon moved from an alcove under the roof as a trickle of rain fell through the broken roof tiles onto its feathered body. It fluttered to a nearby sycamore, gave off a few disgruntled coos and then became quiet.
Miriam poured herself another glass, and raised a toast, alone in her darkened kitchen, to her daughter. And, she felt, to her son. He was as good as gone.
It started small, where he claimed he could hear her. And Miriam had agreed, it was almost as if she was still around. After that, she became worried. He claimed he could see her, had given her a hug. She was filled with-
She threw another shot back. It wasn’t jealousy, she told herself. That’s morbid.
She knew he was sleeping upstairs with her nightie.
She knew he blamed himself nightly, and that the nightmares probably would take years to end, if they did at all.
She tried to pour herself another shot, but the bottle was empty.
She dropped the bottle into the sink and staggered to the stairs.
She climbed the stairs.
She walked to her bedroom.
She climbed into bed.
She fell asleep.
The cupboard under the stairs