Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the most pretentious working title for any story I’ve written to date. Not sure why I thought it was a good idea, but it’s in my head now and only wide scale mocking and derision will shake it loose.
Be warned, I am still incredibly sick. Not throwing up til dawn sick, but exhausted, coughy, phlegmy, raspy, highly medicated sick. With that in mind, this story is entirely a mood piece. I’ve been feeling really…lonely, I guess, lately. Rather than write sappy poetry or something, this is what I’ve come up with in an attempt to channel the emotions and maybe stop dreaming such tantalizing and ultimately depressing dreams. It’s vague, and weird, and probably nowhere near as deep or insightful as I think it is, but I’m posting it anyway, because damnit, if I don’t care what I think, then why should anyone else?
That last sentence made more sense in my head, believe me. Like I said. Sick. And tired. So, yeah, give it a read and let me know what you think. It needs work but it might have the spark of something good in it yet. Thanks, as always.
Writing Challenge Day 22: Flaxen Silence (Working (and pretentious) Title (fear my triple parentheses!))
By E. W. Morrow
Word Count: 2222 (I’ll be honest, I added two words just to make it straight 2’s. Sue me)
She told me, the very first time I ever visited her house, that the cellar was off limits.
I didn’t press the issue at the time, since our relationship was still in it’s fledgling stages. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in love. A more wonderful woman I have never met, before or since. Intelligent and funny she somehow managed to fit herself in to any situation, any group of people, and improve it with her presence. When she laughed it was like opening a bottle of champagne, effervescent and intoxicating. For some reason she took an interest in me, in my poetry and in my silence. She said she like the silence better because she could hear more poetry in it than I could ever say aloud. God above, I wish I knew why she chose me. I am not an ugly man, but neither am I handsome. But she was a most definitely a beautiful girl. Tall and slender. Pale as the new dawn. Eyes like chips of ice in the sunlight. I loved her hair most of all. It was thick and heavy and hung in rivulets, often times over one shoulder. When we would share a pillow, our faces close together after a night of sex, or love making, if you prefer, it would often cover the pillow like a second silken sheet, and I would fall asleep amongst the lavender scented curls. Gold. It was a golden was a mass of curls and waves of a color I might have called flaxen had I been a poet from a more romantic age. Maybe one day I will. Age seems to make everything more romantic.
Everything but the cellar. She warned me not to go down there, but as I grew to know her more completely, the persistent secret of the barred door became the thing I most wanted to know. Long after the spark of mystery had gone from our nightly passions I desperately wanted to know what was behind that heavy wooden door with the great, big padlock. Was it dangerous, I would ask? No, she would answer, not exactly. Should I be worried about you? No, of course not. Why can’t I go down there? You can, she’d say, but you shouldn’t. Please don’t ever go down there. Will I ever know what’s down there? I hope not. I never asked her more than one or two questions. After that she’d stop answering altogether. Most times she would flip her hair over her shoulder, shielding her face from me, and burrow deeper into my arms.
It probably wouldn’t have happened if the two of us hadn’t moved in together. When I say “the two of us”, what I mean is that I moved in with her. At the time it seemed natural. Her place was bigger and in a better neighborhood, and I had much less clutter to move than she did. With the exception of the bed, which we ended up taking to the dump later in the week, we made the move in one trip with nothing but my father’s pickup truck and two work friends desperate for free pizza. My book collection proved the most difficult thing to transport, but once we decided to pack the boxes to the brim and worry about their weight later, our space issues were solved. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I began to suspect that the reason she didn’t want to move in to my place was that I did not have a cellar.
Once we began living together I started questioning her more frequently about the contents of the locked cellar, but she never gave me more information than she thought I needed. She never told me it’s contents or specifics of any danger that might reside there. The one thing she did do was to clarify and expand the warning.
Do not go into the cellar, she said. Under no circumstances should you ever go down into the cellar. No matter what you hear, keep the door shut. If you come home and the door is open, close it. Even if you think I am down there, never go into the cellar.
Her new, more specific, warning only served to heighten my curiosity even further. In the year we had been together I had never heard a single sound that seemed to originate from behind the wooden cellar door, nor had I ever seen it unbarred, much less open to the world above. It seemed almost cruel that she would add those details to the realm of possibility only to deny me their eventuality.
I started to listen at the door whenever she was away. When she was at work I would sit in the hall and write, stopping my pen and leaning closer if anything audible pierced my concentration. On the weekends I would wake before her, pad down the stairs who’s creaks and groans I had started to anticipate and master, and creep up to the door, crouched low so that my head was almost near the knob. I never heard so much as a whisper from the space below.
My work began to take on a dark, morbid tone. My editor called one day to ask me if I was going through a “Poe Period”, as he called it. He gave me the address and meeting schedule for the local chapter of AA and told me to start attending meetings if it got too bad. It was strange, though, that my mental shift had not affected my reader base very much, if at all. Where once I had written bright, romantic poetry and, occasionally, prose, my newest pieces were dark, almost Gothic in their style, but apparently no less romantic for it. Middle aged women and love-addled teenagers still gobbled up everything I wrote. Two sides of the same coin, I suppose.
For some strange and unknown reason it never occurred to me to actually go down the stairs and into the cellar until the day she lost her keys. It was in the middle of the week and I woke up to the sounds of her throwing clothes out of the hamper like a mole digging into a freshly tilled garden. A pair of blue jeans hit me in the face a few seconds after I gained full consciousness and I groggily asked her what she was doing.
Had I seen her keys, she asked? No, of course not. Had I seen what she’d done with them last night? I didn’t think so. Why weren’t they on the night stand like always? I didn’t know. I asked if she’d checked around the night stand, and for the first time in our entire relationship she actually shouted at me. It flared up in an instant and was gone just as sudden. It was like being slapped by an emotion. Whip-like tendrils of hair lashed out and seemed to stretch beyond the periphery of my vision, like I was viewing her through a fish-eye lens, and her ice-blue eyes sent cold daggers through my heart. And then she was herself again, lavish mounds of flaxen hair hanging over one shoulder, eyes as calm as a new day. She apologized, and I did the same. I proffered my keys, told her to take my car to work. I would look for her keys and set them back on the night stand.
It took her several moments of agonized silence to accept. When she did, it was in silence still, just a hand held out in my direction to accept the ring of keys. She looped one finger through the ring and pulled me close. Still without words she touched my face, starting high on my temple and running the fingers down my cheek, the index finger lightly brushing my eyelashes as they went, and ending on my lips. She pulled me closer still and kissed me deeper than she ever had.
She left in silence, not saying the words that both of us heard regardless: Please, don’t go into the cellar.
Within an hour I had located the wayward keys, caught on a lip behind the night stand between the wall and the power cord of the stand’s small lamp, and within a minute of finding them I was standing in front of the cellar door, trying whatever keys I was unfamiliar with on padlock. I would have opened it sooner had my hands not been shaking with excitement and read, or had I thought to read the brands etched on the keys to find one that matched the one on the lock itself. In the end it was the smallest key, silver and round at the top, almost hidden between two massive, blocky brass ones on either side. I could feel the tumblers sliding into place as the key slid home. Turning the key was unexpectedly easy for a lock that saw such infrequent use. The click as the shackle popped out of the main body was the loudest sound I’d ever heard.
I’d been right about one thing though. The door was indeed heavy. It was an old, solid wood door, maybe even older than the house itself. It stuck in the frame slightly so I had to tug it free but it offered no real resistance. When I had the door open all the way, I stopped and looked within.
All I could make out in the darkness below as a simple wooden staircase with hand rails on both sides. Halfway down the staircase leveled out and then tuned left at a right angle before continuing down. The space to the left of the steps was empty once the it got below the floor level of the room I was currently standing in, so that to one side there was a black gulf protected only by a railing that was no more than length of wood painted white.
Even after all of the waiting and wondering about what was behind that old wooden door I could not bring myself to take that first step. Instead I listened to the void below the stairs. Silence was all that greeted me. If sound could have a color, then the sound of the space behind the cellar door would have been as black and empty as the space it originated from. As far as I was concerned, rooted to place at the top of the stairs, there was absolutely nothing in the cellar.
Of course, there could have been something down there. All I had to do was flick the light switch on and take a few tentative steps down, peer into the void and then gone back up. But I didn’t. As much as the dark silence frightened me, it also gave me joy. I backed away from the abyss until my back hit the far wall of the hallway, and then I slid down the wall, grinding my spine against the accent trim about two-thirds of the way down, and sat staring into it.
I must have sat there all day. I must have. It didn’t feel like it, but the next thing I remember was a gentle hand around my waist and another lifting my arm. She draped my arm over he shoulder, sliding it through her golden strands of lavender scented hair so that my fingers slid through them and came to rest on her arm still intertwined with them. I pulled her close without realizing it.
“Did you go down,” she asked.
“Why not, she asked?”
“Because I didn’t need to.”
“What do you mean, she whispered?”
“I know what’s down there now.”
“But you said you didn’t go down.”
“Then how do you know.”
“I just do.”
“But what if you’re wrong? What if something is down there?”
“Doesn’t matter. To me, this is all that’s down there.” I gestured at the open door. “Just….darkness. And silence.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“I like the silence better.”
And that was all we said. There wasn’t a need for any more words. Silently she got up and shut the door, locked it back up tight, and then pulled me to my feet, dragging me clumsily to the bedroom as we stripped each other of our clothes. That night, after we had finished and I had lain my head on her silken curls, she told me she had something for me. She rolled over, after I’d raised my head so as not to pull her hair. She reached into the drawer in the nightstand and for the first time I realized that I had never seen that drawer open before. She pulled out a key, small and silver and round a the top. It was a perfect twin to the one I’d used earlier that day.
But I didn’t need it, I told her. I know, she smiled, and that’s why you can have it. I didn’t say I wouldn’t use it, and she didn’t tell me not to. She’d given me the key to her darkest, most silent secret, and I’d given her the proof that I would never use it. Nothing had changed, but it was the most important nothing in the world.