A short story by AD Bane
When had it first appeared? He didn’t know. Certainly it had always been there. At least it seemed as if it always had been. But was it really? He couldn’t help but wonder. On very cold nights when the fire died down he would sit on the hearth and think about it. At least he thought he would: he certainly meant to, but he always found his mind wandering to other things – the broken pump handle that hadn’t worked in years, the cracked cobblestones at the front door, the rotted steps over which he always had to pass, the creak of the old swing in the yard: even the hedges needed a trim, for they were growing into the lane. And still he couldn’t bring himself to think of it. Oh yes, he knew it was there: he’d seen it. There next to the mantel piece he’d glimpsed it once so very long ago, only just at the corner of his eye. It was so long and dark, etched into the wallpaper, perhaps into the plaster behind, as well. And from it there came that trickle of dark water that stained the carpet a dirty rust-brown. Every day it seemed to grow longer. Or had it? He didn’t know now. He wasn’t even certain when he’d last seen it. But surely it must’ve grown, for how it had grown upon his mind! It was all he could think of and all he could not. Long and lonely years, and he sitting there in his chair, thinking about the one thing his mind could never quite touch.
It was such a lonely old house. It stood there on the hill with the fields all about stretching away for miles and miles of wheat and rye all golden in the autumn sun and driven in the wind as far as his eye could see from the kitchen window. The house’s old memories were no different than the land that had endured its presence: the fences had all fallen to ruin, the willow was overgrown, the drive was rutted – but not that it mattered: his car hadn’t started in some years now; it only sat in the yard with the paint peeling from the fenders. And there was no one to pay him a visit, anyhow. He didn’t even now know where the key that had once turned the rusted lock in the gate could be found. Somewhere in the days now past it’d become lost to his memory, and try as he might it wasn’t a thing to be recalled. And then there was the cellar: how many years had it been since he had opened that door, and what might be found there in the darkness? He didn’t know, nor did he care to find out – not now. Perhaps in some corner of his mind he did know. But there was nothing that should be of any use. The repairs must be done, he thought. They must. It wouldn’t do any good to think of anything else. Had he not bought a new pump handle that sat in the garden shed, still in its wrappings from the hardware store? There were many stones to be found behind the house in the low drainage ditch, stones as might replace those on the walk that were cracked. And was there not also lumber down at the old mill? But for a few nails to be found in the shed, the steps would be as new. And surely a tin of oil must be lying about with years of dust collected on it. The swing wouldn’t creak anymore when a westerly wind crossed the yard. And in the cellar there was that old bucket of plaster and a pail of paint . . .
The cellar was such a dark and horrible place. That was where it’d come from, he was sure. By years and many chilled nights it’d crept into the living room and worked itself into the wall next to the mantel piece. Even now he wouldn’t stand at the top of those stairs, not even for a moment. He didn’t even like to go around to the back of the house where the old, weathered doors guarded the cellar. And it wasn’t a surprise that he should be afraid of it, he supposed: once it’d spoken to him. In the night and the darkness it’d come. There was no moon to shine in his window; the last embers had all but died; it was cold, and he shivered beneath the blankets. And then it’d crossed his floor. He told himself it was just a trick of the shadows, that he only imagined such things at the corners of his eyes; but he knew it’d been there, just the same. And then it spoke: “Why have you not patched up that dirty great crack in the wall?” it asked. But he couldn’t reply. He was cold, and yet the sweat ran from his brow and he trembled. The blankets were drawn tight around his head, and he could see only the darkness of his own thoughts. “Such an injustice,” it said. “And it would only take a few moments. You know where to find the things.” And he did know. Yes, certainly he did.
When the sun came up he went about it at once. First the lantern was to be lit, and then the key to find. It was on his old ring hidden away in the kitchen drawer, and it turned the lock on the cellar door with little trouble. Then he held the light ahead, and in he went to find the plaster and the paint. It was where he’d always known it would be, there in the corner with all that old canning stacked around; and, though they were quite heavy, he wasn’t so well in his years that he couldn’t manage. Back up the stairs he went and to the porch where those steps were so badly in need of repair. He had to get the lumber from the mill, and so off he went at once. And there was the garden shed and the pump’s handle still inside. From the wrappings he took it, and it was not a difficult task: the bolts were rusted but they didn’t fuss much when he pried them. Then there was the trek to the mill. It took him no more than ten minutes, though his back was complaining when at last he set the lumber down with his hammer and nails. But then he spied the hedges, and in the garden shed were his shears. There too was that old tin of oil. And then all those clippings must be taken away and the swing seen too. The stones in the ditch were heavy – they nearly broke his back – and never before had his old limbs ached more. But at last he crossed the newly-laid cobbles, and up the steps he went, each one in turn, and in at the door to the living room to put his feet up next to the fire. How wonderful it was to sit down when once all the work had been done! But he spied it from just the corner of his eye, there where it had worked itself into the wall next to the mantel piece – or had he? The pump handle was fixed, the stones replaced, the steps repaired, the creak well-oiled, and the hedges trimmed. All had been done, and it’d been a day well spent. Well, he’d forgotten the willow tree. And the grass must be cut. But those could be done tomorrow. For now he’d relax: he’d earned that much.
–but there it was, that crack in the wall only just where he could not see it. Why had he not patched it up? But everything had been done. He sighed. “Look at it,” it said. He didn’t want to. His eyes looked away instinctively. But he made them focus, made them look into its blackness, past that trickle of dark water. Yes, it certainly had come from the cellar. It laughed at him – the injustice! But was it really in his wall? “No,” it said, “not the wall.” He could feel it now, cold on his face, and that trickle of dark water running from the corner of his eye.
He put up his feet by the fire. How wonderful it was to sit down when once all the work had been done. The pump handle was fixed, the stones replaced, the steps repaired, the creak well oiled, and the hedges trimmed. He sighed. Yes, everything had been done. There was that one thing only just in the corner of his – no, everything had been done.
This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2011 ADBane.com