By Scott Wilson
“Bob, the fire’s starting to go out!” Ruth yelled at her husband, who was asleep on the Jason recliner in front of the fireplace.
“Struth,” Bob yelled, leaping to his feet and rushing to the fireplace.
Growling and screeching howled at Bob from the chimney as he pilled kindling and torn up shreds of newspaper on the glowing embers. He could see the horrific, long clawed shadow reach down towards his arm. Bob pulled the can of lighter fluid, squeezed a dose on the embers, and stumbled back as the flames shot up the chimney like a fireball. The screeching tore the stillness of the night in two like a switchblade carving through flimsy satin material.
“Are you alright, honey?”
“I’m okay, Ruth.”
“That was too close for my liking, Bob. What happened?”
“I... I must have dozed off. I’m sorry honey.”
“It’s okay, Bob. It is wearing me down to. It’s been almost a week now and I am getting tired as well.”
Bob looked at the cellar door at the top of the broken staircase and sighed. There must be some way of getting out of here, he thought to himself.
“How much food do we have left?”
Ruth went to the small cupboard and rummaged through the cans and bottles and made a calculation in her head, turned to her husband and frowned.
“’Bout a week and a half, maybe two.”
“I’m going to try and get to the door again, Ruth.”
“You be careful, last time you almost broke your leg.”
Bob walked to the broken staircase. The stairs had come down when the cyclone went over the house, trapping them in their cellar for a week. White Ants must have eaten away at the steps and most of the handrails for them to come crashing down with a loud thud when the cyclone shook the house like a child’s toy. Bob tried using the handrail on the left side to make his way up to the stairs the morning after the and fell down half way up, taking the left hand rail and most of the stairs with him.
“I’ve got an idea, Ruthie.”
Bob grabbed hold of the remaining handrail and gave it a good shake. It appeared to be solid and did not give any under his grip.
“Come over here babe, it will hold you. You are half my weight and this rail feels pretty sturdy.”
Ruth walked over to the stairs hesitantly, fearful of falling down as if Bob had done but coming off worse that with a severely sprained ankle.
“I’ll walk under you as you climb. Don’t worry about falling, Ruthie. I’ll catch you if anything happens.”
Ruth put her hands on the rail and her foot on the groove where the second step had been. The rail did not shake under her weight, but Ruth was shaking so much that it felt like the rail would collapse before she managed to take a single step. She took a deep breath then began to slowly edge her way up the single beam, using the broken stairs and grooves to edge her way up to freedom.
“That’s it Ruthie. Nice and steady and you’ll be right.”
Ruth shuffled her way up the handrail slowly, taking care to not learn to far forward or backwards and put any unnecessary stress on the structure. Bob kept a vigilant eye on the solid pine handrail, hoping that it would support his wife’s weight until she reached the door. Ruth reached the cellar door and grabbed the handle with her right hand, keeping balance with her weaker, left hand. She wondered why humans had to be either left or right handed, why couldn’t people learn how to use both hands equally so this sort of thing wasn’t a problem. Not that she expected shimmying up the remains of a collapsed staircase was that common of a task humans would have to perform on a regular basis?
“I’ve almost got it, hon.”
“Just take your time. We have been here for a week, no rush. Take your time, Ruthie.”
Ruth turned the handle and the door opened towards the inside of the house. She carefully stepped into the doorway and used the door to steady herself on the way into the house.
“I made it, Bob.” Ruth called back down to her husband.
“Okay, Ruthie. See if the phone works and call Jim from the SES for help.”
“I’ll be back soon.”
Ruth went into the house and out of Bob’s sight. Bob went back to the fireplace and threw another broken stair on the roaring flames. He knocked on the stone mantle and smiled. Bob had no idea what the hell was in the chimney, but he was going to get his shotgun as soon as he was back upstairs in the house and make sure that the creature didn’t cause them, or anyone else problems.
“Bob, the phone isn….” Ruth’s voice was suddenly cut off midsentence by the unmistakable howl and screeching of the creature from the chimney.
Bob ran to the handrail and began to edge his way up quickly. His sprained ankle threatened to give out on him with every step he took. The knocking and screaming became louder as he neared the open doorway. He slipped and his sprained ankle gave way beneath him as he scrambled to steady himself. Bob grabbed at the handrail and it creaked and groaned heavily under his movement. He could feel the aged pine give way and he crashed down to the cold, hard concrete floor of the cellar. The last thing Bob remembered was Ruth’s blood soaked hand against the cellar door and her face with a horrified look pleading to him for help.
Bob came around a few hours later with a throbbing pain in his forehead and a burning ache shooting up his left leg. He tried to stand and almost passed out from the pain just below his left knee. A bone protruded from his trouser leg, jutting out a few inches and oozing blood like a leaking tap.
“Ruthie!” he yelled.
There was no answer.
Bob look up at the cellar door. It was closed, covered with bloody handprints from the struggle his wife and long, jagged claw marks from the beast that attacked her. To Bob, they looked like some kind of giant feline had used the old pine door as a scratching post.
“Ruth,” he yelled again.
There was still no reply from upstairs in the house.
The sound of scratching inside the chimney caused Bob to turn his attention from cellar door back to the fireplace. Bob had not bee awake for a few hours and the large fire had dwindled slowly to only a pile of glowing red embers, with very little in the way of flames to keep the beast at bay.
Bob tried to rush to the fireplace, but his broken leg severely hindered him from moving quickly. He saw the long muscular arm ending in a four-fingered claw with five-inch talons reaching down from the opening of the fireplace. Bob grabbed a piece of broken stair as he stumbled to his knees and tossed it at the fireplace, splashing the embers into the air like hundreds of miniature fireworks. One of the larger embers landed on the clawed arm, setting the thick black wiry hair alight. The creature screeched and scurried back up the chimney, howling angrily as it climbed.
Bob fought off the dizziness swirling around his eyes like a child’s mobile. He knew if he passed out from the pain, the fire would go out, and the creature would finally make it all the way down the chimney and into the cellar.
“I’ll get the bastard for you Ruthie.”
Bob crawled over to the fireplace and stoked it full of kindling, wood and some old rags. Slowly, the fire grew like and angry creature, rising until the flames leapt angrily at the base of the chimney.
Bob pulled his leg out straight and tore the material of his trousers to see the full extent of the damage to his broken leg. He felt the acrid taste of bile rise up in his throat and choked back vomit and nausea from the pain. Pushing through the barrier of pain, Bob made a splint from pieces of the broken staircase and the cleanest rags his could find tucked into the old chest of draws. On top of the set of draws were a few bottles of spirits and a selection of wine. He drank a large swig of whiskey to settle his nerves and dull the pain.
“Right, that’s it.” Bob said as he stood up. “This means war then.”
Over the years, Bob and Ruth had cleared out most of the unwanted clutter from the cellar, keeping only those items that had sentimental value of things, such as the kid’s pushbikes, that may be of some use to the grandkids. There was very little that Bob could use to make a ladder to climb out of the cellar. The door was seven feet from the floor of the cellar and Bob was only five foot six tall. He had not been able to climb out before spraining his ankle and there was nothing sturdy to move under the doorway to hop on and gain a better hold to get the door open. The white ants must have eaten the chest of draws as well; it creaked and wobbles on its four legs when Bob had tried to slide it over to the staircase.
“Bugger, bugger, bugger.” Bob said. “There must be something I can use as a weapon or ladder.”
Bob rummaged around the plastic boxes and crates scattered around the cellar, nothing useful was to be found anywhere. He could hear the creature scratching at the cellar door now. It must have worked out how to get there now that Ruth had managed to get out and lead it back to the door. That meant that the creature was not that smart, it had not tried getting into the cellar over the week other than through the chimney.
The scratching stopped.
Bob found an old skipping rope in one of the crates then another one. He tied the two jump ropes together and made a lasso at one end. It was about ten feet long, enough to catch the door hand with a good shot. The only problem was that the door opened in towards the house and not towards the cellar. Even if Bob did manage to secure the lasso around the door handle, there was no way he could open the door from down in the cellar.
“Bugger it,” he thought, then tossed the lasso at the door handle.
After a dozen throws, the lasso finally caught on and Bob pulled it tight to secure it before it slipped off. He tested the jump rope and it felt secure. Bob did not know if either the jump rope or the door handle would support his weight as he climbed up it. Looking at the fireplace to make sure that it was well and truly roaring, he began slowly, and painfully climbing up the skipping rope, using his arms and good leg. The broken leg dangled uselessly and throbbed with each jerk as he inched his way closer to the cellar door. By the time he reached the remaining section of broken handrail and stair, he was exhausted and glad to have something a fraction more stable to rest on. He swung his good leg onto the pine frame, still holding on tightly to the skipping rope for fear of the stairs collapsing for a third time. Bob took a quick rest, and then pulled himself up to the door, using the foothold that his wife had earlier that day.
“Here goes nothing,” he said to himself as he opened the door slowly.
In the darkness of the ground floor of the house, Bob could see nothing, apart from a trail of blood glistening on the floorboards from the light from the fireplace below. He opened the door further, cautious of exposing himself to the creature if it were lurking out of his sight, hidden in the shadows somewhere.
Bob headed for the broom cupboard at the end of the hall, the cupboard he stored his shotgun and shells in. When he reached it, he was surprised to find that the trail of blood ended at the thick oak door. He pulled hard on the handle, jerking it open against his broken leg.
“Aargh,” he cried loudly.
He did not see the shotgun aimed waist height, nor feel the blast that tore a hole in his stomach. Falling forward, Bob vaguely recognised the badly scratched and mutilated face of Ruth when he landed on top of her in the closet, taking his last breath as she exhaled hers.
“Bobby,” she slurred out of the side of her mouth not shredded by the creature that attacked her earlier.
Ruth did not notice the glowing red or pointed yellow mouth full of teeth as they came slowly closer to the cupboard. Her remaining eye welled up with tears, knowing she had just killed her husband with his own shotgun. The salty blood from her husband’s injury tricked off her face into her eyes, blinding her for a second until she wiped it away with the sleeve of her torn blouse.
She did not see the beast as it leapt from the hallway into the closet with Ruth, trapped under her husband’s frail old body. She did feel it is hot and rancid breathe as it tore into her wrinkled old neck and tore at it wildly.
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