“Don’t go near the door.”
The words rung like a bell in Tommy’s head. How many times had Father spoken them? They’d been his final ones too, or at least as far as Tommy was concerned. They were the last words he’d ever heard another voice speak, “Be a good boy, Thomas. I love you. Don’t go near the door.” For years it had been easy to honor those words until, one day, a bevy of strange scents and sound stirred Tommy from his slumber.
Ears perked, Tommy sat up in the darkness. Whatever was happening above his cold stone room, it wasn’t familiar. The sounds didn’t belong to Father’s old clattering work-boots and the smells were far sweeter than the musty pine and damp earth that usually accompanied his visits. And as Tommy listened to the floorboards creak above his ceiling, he realized that the scents and sounds didn’t belong to just one person but two.
Heart racing, Tommy swept his tattered bed-sheets over his head and curled into a tight ball. Father had warned him plenty of times about what to do if trespassers ever came around. He was to hunker down in his corner and make himself as small as possible, to never give anyone reason to think that he was there at all. But when one of the trespassers began to speak, Tommy couldn’t help but sit up again and cup his ear.
“This place must be a hundred years old.”
The voice was immaculate. It reminded Tommy of the birds that would sing outside his window every morning in the spring, or the singers on the old records Father had shown him so long ago. It was delicate and beautiful, bearing none of the gruffness that his or Father’s carried. The other voice, however, did.
“A hundred and fifty,” it said. Its baritone was nearly as deep as Father’s, though not nearly so rough and raspy. “It isn’t much, but it’s a nice little getaway. Plenty of good skiing in these mountains, you know.”
“Yes, skiing,” said the pretty voice. “I’m sure that’s why you brought me all the way out here.” Then it gave a bout of fluttering laughter as pretty as the stars that would twinkle down through Tommy’s narrow window on only the clearest of nights. Chewing his bottom lip, his eyes flitted across the room and fixed on what stood at the top of the stair.
“Don’t go near the door,” he heard again.
Tommy had questioned Father about it once. He’d always been so full of questions and every time he asked one Father’s face lit up. Every time but that one, anyway. “Because I care about you, Thomas,” he’d said, grabbing one of Tommy’s hands with both his own. “The world up there, it is an ugly place full of ugly people, the last thing I want is for any of their ugliness and pain to reach you.”
He hadn’t been lying, Tommy knew that. After all, every book Father had ever brought him said the same: the world above was full of people that stole, and hurt, and even killed. Yet as he sat there, staring up at the door and listening to those voices laughing so sweetly with one another, Tommy couldn’t be sure. And as fear began to crumble beneath the weight of curiosity, Tommy started up the stairs.
Listening from just behind the door everything was so much clearer. Not only did the voices become more distinct and interesting, but Tommy could also hear the soft lilt of music in the background. It had been years since he’d listened to Father’s records, and while the slightly faster beat of it didn’t quite mesh with Tommy’s memories he loved it all the same. And so he sat, privately gleaning music and conversation from the trespassers until the two voices grew hushed and a strange new sound began to punctuate the melodies.
Tommy pressed his ear to the door but even then it was difficult to hear. It was a sort of soft, wet clapping and kept, for the most part, with the rhythm of the music. Tommy sighed. He wished the voices would begin speaking again, it was far more interesting than whatever this was. But just as he was about to peel his ear away, he heard the pretty voice again, though now it wasn’t speaking. Instead it gave a soft, sensuous moan.
Tommy’s eyes grew wide, a lump forming in his throat. The moan came again, then the baritone joined in, and as they continued, the frequency of the outbursts quickening, Tommy found a strange feeling washing over him. It was good, like stretching out after a long night’s rest, but far more intense.
Tommy pushed up harder against the door. He wanted to be on the other side, he wanted to see them the same way he saw the things outside his window. Those sounds weren’t coming from something ugly, from something hateful, they couldn’t have been. Those sounds could only come from something like the music on the records or the songbirds, they could only come from something beautiful.
The sounds stopped.
“What was that?” asked the pretty voice.
“I think it came from the closet,” said the baritone.
“Well go look!”
Tommy eased back from the door. Where he’d been pushing with his head was caved inward and a thin, jagged line of light was flooding in from the opposite side. He held his breath as a set of footsteps drew nearer and nearer and there was a clatter from beyond the threshold. The light flickered as a figure beyond began to move around and Tommy hunkered down so he could see through the slat. “Holy shit,” said the baritone, sounding closer than ever before. “I think this wall is hollo—JEESUS!’
The shriek startled Tommy, who immediately began to back away from the door. His legs, however, were clumsy after being hunched for so long and his steps became a backward tumble that ended in a crash against the floor’s unforgiving stone. Pain thudded in his skull while he scampered back over to his bed, listening to the shrieks sound above him.
“What WAS it?”
“I—I don’t know. There was an eye—a big—eye.”
“Oh god, oh god, oh god…”
It went on like that for a long while, the trespassers shrieking to one another while Tommy trembled beneath his bed sheets, then a stillness came that seemed to last an eternity. They’d stopped speaking, stopped stepping even, and for a moment Tommy thought they might have gone. But than another crack, this one more explosive, came from the top of the stairs.
KRACK! KRACK KEEEERACCKK!
More blows came, each one sending more debris raining over the floor. This was it, Tommy thought, this was what Father had been warning him about. Burying himself deeper in his nest of blankets, Tommy curled into as tight a ball as possible as two sets of footsteps made their way down the stairs and a beam of bright light filled the darkness.
“A-a-alright, whoever you are,” said the baritone, his voice echoing against the stone to sound much more terrifying than it had been. “We know you’re down here and we’re all snowed in for the weekend, so if you’d-d-d just come out and s-s-show yourself now we-we–”
“Ah Christ,” said the pretty voice, sounding a good deal less pretty. “Listen, whether you’re a pervert or an oversized rodent, we’ve got weapons and unless you come out now, we’re going to use them.”
Tommy didn’t move. He knew what weapons were, but he was done disobeying Father’s orders for today.
“Alright,” said the pretty voice again, still not pretty. “Then here we come.”
The beam of light began to search the room, flooding different corners of Tommy’s peripheral vision as the trespassers began to walk the perimeter. It was bright, much brighter than the lantern that Father had carried and even beneath the blanket Tommy had to shut his eyes tight to keep it from searing his vision. This was fine with Tommy, who was too terrified to open them and only managed to do so when, minutes later, the footsteps finally stopped behind him.
“W-what’s that?” whispered the baritone.
“Don’t know,” said the pretty voice. “Looks like a pile of old rags.” Tommy felt his blankets shift as something pulled at them. He held back both a shiver and a shriek as whatever it was let the blankets fall down again. “Why would someone build a secret room just for hiding a pile of old rags?”
“I don’t know,” said the baritone. “But could we please just go back upstairs, move a bookcase in front of the closet and leave as soon as the snow dies down? It was probably just a rat—or something.”
“Sure,” sighed the pretty voice. “Right after I see about one more thing.” There was a s rush of air as something was thrust into his blankets, then a sudden sharp pain sent Tommy sprawling from his safety beneath them.
“AHHHHHHHH!” he cried, the shrillness of his screams amplifying as they echoed off the stone. Tommy tore blindly at the wound, the harshness of the light having rendered him sightless, and pried loose the small metal shard the trespassers had shoved into his abdomen just as another sent the same razor pain through his upper thigh. There was another bite of pain ,and another, and soon Tommy was back on the ground, trying to will it all away again, trying to hide. But no matter how tightly he curled, no matter how small he made himself, this wasn’t going to end. Not unless he ended it.
When Tommy’s hands shot out there was silence. When they wrapped around two twig-like bodies attacking him, their shrieks, not his, began to echo from the chamber walls. And after he whipped the trespassers away, their bodies giving a brief but heavy thud against the far wall, there was silence again.
Tommy didn’t approach them immediately. Burrowing back beneath his blankets, he waited for his vision to return and remained there for a long while after it did. But after hours of reassuring himself that the voices had gone silent and that the footsteps he was hearing were only inside his head, Tommy rose to his feet and began to tremble toward them.
Tommy had seen a bird die once. It had happened, like nearly everything that happened to him, just beyond the small window that loomed above his bed. It was a baby bird, one whose proportions clearly weren’t correct for the gift of flight he’d read all birds possessed, and it hit the ground hard enough to wake him. It hadn’t died though. Instead it had meekly squawked and twitched for hours, while Tommy watched, powerless to help, until its undeveloped wings finally stiffened.
One of the trespassers had gone just that stiff already. It didn’t respond to his prods, his shakes, his whimpering. The other one, however, the one with the long hair and a significantly different shape than Father’s, did. When Tommy began to shake it, it sat up and stared straight at him. The moment was brief, but in that briefness Tommy could see in its widened eyes, the same fear that welled inside his own. And as the trespasser’s gaze grew as cold and stiff as the other’s, Tommy knew what he had to do.
He tried not to look up at the door after that. The repair job he’d done was sloppy and wouldn’t have stopped him if he’d really wanted to leave. Occasionally though, Tommy’s sight would stray in that direction and he’d find himself staring up, thinking about the vast world that must lay beyond. But then he’d remember the fear in the pretty thing’s eyes and his gaze would turn back toward the floor.
He never went near the door again.