The Sale. Part 13.

As Aisha and I ran down the underground corridor, squinting in the dim light, we heard a voice crackling from an old wooden speaker box on the wall. It was Silas.

“You can’t escape you know.”

We darted to the passage’s end. A blank wall. Backtracked to an intersection. Ran right.

“I had the tunnels built like a maze for just this reason.”

Another dead end. Aisha swore. “How do we get out of this insane asylum?” she cried. We backtracked to an earlier junction and took a left.

Silas continued, his voice echoing through the stone halls from various speakers. “I’ve been doing this for years, you know. And I haven’t lost a victim—that is, a subject—yet.”

“I guess we’re going to have to hear his monologue after all,” I said.

Silas talked as we ran down more corridors, hoping to find a way out. “I’m not happy about what you did to poor Junifer. She suffers from mental illness, you know. You took advantage of her condition.”

Aisha and I stopped at a cross junction. The tunnels went four ways. We gathered our breath. We hugged each other. Silas’s eerie ventriloquism continued. “Her mother suffered from the same condition, you know. I tried to help Junifer as best I could. But my experimental treatment was ineffective. So, I set her up as the mistress of this house. Only the best for my daughter.”

“She’s his daughter?” said Aisha. “That explains a lot.”

“Let’s go,” I said. I placed my hand on one wall and we jogged along, my fingertips always keeping contact. At the end, instead of retracing our footsteps, I kept my fingers on the wall and followed it around until I was next to the opposite wall. “This will take a long time, but eventually we’ll get out. As long as we follow the walls, rather than the floors.”

Aisha nodded and smiled. “So, what were you, John? A boy scout?”

“Just call me the ‘labyrinth lord’.”

Aisha rolled her eyes. We moved on.

 

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 12.

My hands were in the air and so was the rock-solid Maglite flashlight. Silas was watching the Mexican standoff in the store room where crazy woman Junifer had confronted Aisha.

I threw the torch as hard as I could. It was a crappy throw. The flashlight hit Silas in the side, surprising him more than hurting him. He fired his revolver. The bullet struck me high in the right shoulder, piercing the flesh, ricocheting off the bone and exiting at the side. I yelped and fell back against the laboratory wall.

Aisha and Junifer were both looking into the lab, now. I folded around the door frame into the store room and collapsed next to Aisha’s leg, clutching my shoulder, swearing. There was a fair bit of blood and whole lot of pain. I squeezed my eyes tight and clutched at my shoulder in agony.

“Junifer,” cried Silas. “Kill him.”

At this point I realised he meant me, stopped wincing and got to my feet. Junifer charged me, knife raised and pinned me to the store room wall. I held her back as she screamed like a wild woman, spittle spraying in my face.

Aisha, obviously smarter than me, pulled the lab door shut, grabbed her dropped flashlight and firmly struck Junifer over the back of the head. Unlike in the movies, a good crack on the head with a solid object rarely knocks people out. It does, however, really hurt.

Junifer, distracted now, turned to face Aisha and menaced her with the knife while holding her bloody skull. I grabbed the door handle as Silas made it to the other side. Despite his bulk, he wasn’t as strong as me and couldn’t get it open with me holding the handle this side. Not for want of trying. As we pulled back and forth it almost resembled a child’s game. Aside from the blood, language and strain on our faces, that is.

Aisha was struggling with Junifer on the floor. The knife lay spinning beside them. The girls were scratching, biting and generally doing all the things that make women’s fights so nasty.

“Hit her,” screamed Aisha.

“Would you like to hold this while I do that?” I cried, as the door pumped open and shut in my tug of war with Silas. I really didn’t want to hit Junifer, no matter how crazy she was. My mother had taught me never to lay a hand on a woman. But this was life or death. As they rolled closer to me, I kicked Junifer hard in the skull. She rolled off Aisha onto the floor, writhing slowly, clutching her bleeding head, sobbing quietly. For a moment I was sympathetic. But only for a moment. We still had a gun-toting torturer on the other side of the lab door to deal with.

Aisha was a mess, scratched and bruised. We were both sweat-soaked, dishevelled, drawn and bloody. She grabbed the knife and held the store room door open. “Come on,” she said.

I pulled hard on the lab door until it clicked. Then I let go of the handle and bolted after Aisha as she leapt through the store room doorway. We were in a narrow corridor with rough, rock hewn walls, illuminated by feeble electric bulbs every ten feet or so.

We ran.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 11. A short series.

Aisha froze and dropped her phone. The screen cracked on the concrete floor as it bounced at her feet.

Across the large, concrete-walled room was Silas, the aged and insensitively tall butler. He was no longer dressed in his servant togs, having changed to a white lab coat and matching trousers, and accessorising with a .38 snub-nosed revolver. Pointing right at Aisha.

Being only partly cowardly, I rushed in front to shield her. Having done so I realised perhaps it wasn’t the wisest course of action. My eyes widened. “What the…”

“Indeed, John,” said Silas, smiling like a James Bond villain. “No need for subterfuge, now. Welcome to my laboratory.” He swept his arm theatrically. Behind him, tables with assorted test tubes and other devices; some impressive looking metal tables with restraints, angled at forty five degrees (for easy access, I assume); various nasty looking serrated tools (for easy torture, I assume). The air smelled faintly of antiseptic. Aisha swore.

“You’re probably wondering what all this is about,” said Silas.

Aisha smacked her forehead with her open palm. “Don’t tell me he’s going to soliloquise.”

“Every good villain needs to outline their plan,” said Silas, smiling broadly.

“Screw that,” said Aisha. She ran back into the store room to the other metal door. I stood there stupidly with my hands up. Silas removed a clicker from his pocket and hit the button.

There was a buzz from the handle-less storeroom door we’d checked out earlier and a mechanical whirring of gears. The door slowly opened.

“My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner.”

Wild-haired and wilder-eyed Junifer Vasilikov stood in the open doorway, the gleaming butcher’s knife extending from her white-knuckled grip. Aisha backed up until she bumped into me from behind.

“I’m open to ideas at this point,” she said.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 10. A short series.

Climbing down the ladder we came to the ground floor, with the passage leading to the pantry. “Should we stop here?” said Aisha, taking the iPhone out of her mouth and shining the torch light up the dingy corridor.

“I really think we need to check out the basement.” I tapped my foot impatiently on the rung above her head. “We don’t know if Crazy Junifer is waiting in the kitchen.”

Aisha looked up at me and frowned. “She could be anywhere.”

“Can we just get going? The faster we get to the basement the faster we can get out of here.”

Aisha started moving downwards again, her iPhone back between her teeth. I could hear her mumbling in the dimness. Within a few minutes she had reached the bottom and lowered herself to the floor. I came down after her.

“How’s the phone charge?” I said.

Aisha checked. “Not good. It’s down to 22%. That torch app uses a lot of power.”

“We need to find another light source. There must be a light switch somewhere.”

The basement was larger than expected, maybe thirty feet to a side. The light from the iPhone pierced the darkness, revealing numerous crates and boxes stacked against the walls, along with what looked like furniture under dust sheets. The ladder was at the centre of one wall. Directly across the room were two doors on separate walls. I could just make out what looked like a light switch near the first door.

We walked over. The door was made of steel, with thick bolts rimming the edges. There was no door handle. “Well that’s just perfect,” said Aisha.

I flicked on the light switch. A neon globe sprung to life in the ceiling. “Let there be light,” I said.

“I hope you’re a better salesman than you are a comedian,” said Aisha. She checked her phone for signal (none), then switched it off to save the battery. I pushed on the door, but it didn’t give.

“All right, mister ‘let’s check out the basement so we can get out’, what now?” said Aisha.

I started checking the boxes. After opening a few, success. “Flashlights,” I said, holding aloft two medium-sized Maglites. I tested each and tossed one to Aisha. “Just in case.”

She was standing at the second door. It was the same make as the other, but had a handle. “Looks like we can either try this, or go back up the ladder and try the pantry,” she said.

I walked over, smiling. “My vote’s to try that one. This house can’t get any worse, can it?”

Aisha shrugged. She opened the door.

Then things got worse.
To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 9. A short series.

We made it to the floor access. The iPhone torch light reflected off the shiny ladder, floating dust motes and hanging cobwebs.

“We’re going down there?” said Aisha. Her face wrinkled in dismay. “I don’t know. It’s bad enough I’m in a dark passage with some stranger…”

I slapped my forehead. “Oh, sorry. I’m John. Forgot to introduce myself.”

“That’s because you were too busy screaming like a little old lady.”

“Yes, well we can’t all be heroes, can we?”

“You’re also a hog.” She snatched the cellphone away and shone its light down the ladder recess. “So we have to go down there?”

“It leads to the pantry and further down to the basement. There may be a cellar door we can get out.”

“And who made you the leader?”

I rolled my eyes. “I just want to get out of this house.” I sighed. “All I wanted to do was sell a vacuum to the lady.”

Aisha guffawed. “You’re a vacuum cleaner salesman? What, you couldn’t find a real job?”

“I’ll have you know I’m pretty good at my job. Now if you’ve finished humiliating me…”

She wiped tears from her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m in sales, too. I sell make-up packages.”

It was my turn to laugh. She crossed her arms and frowned. “I make a good living, thank you very much.”

On cue, I stopped. “Well, I guess we’ve both been put in our places.” An uncomfortably pregnant pause followed while we assessed the state of our lives and our current predicament.

“This Vasilikov woman must be luring salespeople,” said Aisha.

“Maybe,” I said. “But something doesn’t feel right. I only away because Silas—the butler—led me here. Then he disappeared. Plus, the ladder is stainless steel, but the butler said the passages and the house were here since the Civil War, so the original ladder much have been replaced at some point. It doesn’t add up.”

“The butler helped you? I had to find my own way through this freak show house. If I hadn’t run upstairs and hid under the bed, I don’t know what would have happened. That butler was gone as soon as Vasilikov came at me with the knife.”

“Like I said, it’s suspicious.” I pointed to the top of the ladder. “Going down?” Aisha nodded.

“Ladies before gentleman,” I said.

“You’re no gentleman,” mumbled Aisha as she climbed down the ladder, iPhone in mouth.

To be continued…

Missed earlier instalments? Click here to read more.

The Sale. Part 8. A short story.

I flung myself off the bed, seeking to extricate my lower leg from whatever was grabbing it. My effeminate scream echoed through the room.

“Oh, shut up,” cried a female voice from below. My leg was released and I huddled against the wall under the shuttered window. An attractive African-American woman in her mid-20’s pulled herself from under the bed and stood. She was dishevelled, dressed in what looked like a tie-dyed hippie dress.

“Who are you?” I said, eyes wide in disbelief.

“I’m Aisha,” said the woman, smiling. “Sorry I scared you. You scream like a girl, you know.”

I rose, looking suitably miffed. “What the hell were you doing under that bed?”

“Hiding from the crazy woman,” said Aisha. “I guess you’ve met her, otherwise you wouldn’t have reacted like you did.”

I relaxed somewhat. “How did you get here?”

“Long story,” she said. “But we need to move, because your girly screams have probably informed  her where we are.” She paused to look me up and down. “I don’t suppose you have a gun or a knife on you? All I’ve got is my cellphone. I can’t get a damn signal, though.”

I deadpanned. “Yeah, I’ve got a few knives tucked into my shoe and a machete down my underwear for just such an occasion.” She rolled her eyes.

“Can I see the phone?” I said. She hesitated, then handed it to me to inspect. It was an iPhone with about 50% charge left. No phone bars, no reception. Strangely, no internet either.

It was at this moment that I realised Silas the butler was nowhere to be seen. The secret door was still open, but he had disappeared. My brow furrowed and I raised an eyebrow, Spock-style.

“There’s a secret passage over there,” I said. “You can tell me your story as we go.” I walked to the opening.

“That’s my phone, you know.”

“There’s no light in the passageway. I need it to see where we’re going.”

Aisha seemed to be in two minds, but decided to follow. “I hope to God you’re not some serial killer.”

“Can’t be worse than Junifer Vasilikov,” I replied. I clicked on the phone’s torch app and climbed into the passageway.

“Is that her name? So she’s some Russian chick?” said Aisha, following. I slid the wood panel into place.

“I guess so. Hey, you didn’t notice the butler standing at the passageway entry a few minutes ago did you?”

“No, I only saw your legs.” Aisha noticed how dank and dirty the corridor was. “Hey, you better not be leading me into trouble. I’ve been hiding safely since last night.”

“You seem pretty okay for someone who’s been hiding out in a strange house for 24 hours.”

“I carry lots of snacks. I’m more annoyed about no internet. You know how dull it can get under a bed?”

To be continued…

Missed the earlier instalments? Click here.

The Sale. Part 7. A short story.

The musty corridor receded into the darkness. Silas, holding his lighter aloft, turned and beckoned me to follow. I trailed him as he crept forward, sweeping dusty cobwebs from the way as he went.

Before long we came to a ladder marking the end of the passage. It led up into the dark and down through a square-cut hole in the floor to the depths below. “We have a choice, sir,” said Silas, glancing up and down. “Which way do you suggest?”

I eyed the ladder, touching the rungs gingerly; they were cold, metallic. “This ladder is made of metal. And it’s not rusted.”

Silas peered more closely. “So it is, sir.”

“Looks like stainless steel,” I said. “Not the sort of material available in Civil War days.”

“Curious. Perhaps it was added at some later date.”

Something wasn’t adding up here. “I don’t even want to think about what’s below this house. Let’s go up.”

“After you, sir.”

I  smiled. “No, I insist. After you.”

Silas climbed creakily up the ladder, awkwardly cradling his lit lighter as he did. He climbed more slowly than he walked, each rung a superhuman effort. I started up after him.

Eventually Silas reached the floor above: another dim, mouldy corridor receding left and right. More cobwebs. I pulled myself up and stood beside him (his prodigious height made me feel like a dwarf).

“So many choices, sir.” He smiled, showing whitened teeth.

“There must be a way out somewhere,” I said. “Let’s try left.”

The left corridor ended after twenty feet. “It’s the back of a secret door, sir.” Of course it was the back of a secret door. What else would I expect to find in this crazy house?

“I can’t hear anything, sir.”

“Then let’s get out of here.”

The door opened into a master bedroom, illuminated from above by a chandelier. It was lavishly appointed (if a bit old and worn) with a four-poster bed, antique cupboards and dresser, with floors of  polished wood. I slipped over and tried one of the windows. It slid open, but the shutters beyond wouldn’t budge. “The shutters are jammed.” I tried another. Same thing. “This one, too. What the hell is going on here?”

Silas looked suitably vacant. “I’m not sure, sir.”

I sat on the edge of the bed. “How am I going to get out of here?”

Cold fingers grabbed my lower leg. I screamed.

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 6. A short story.

I pushed off the door and bolted to the pantry, glimpsing back briefly to see the flame-haired mistress of the blade standing in the frame as the door swung open and hit the wall.

The pantry was bigger than I expected, a central corridor lined with shelves of food products—more like a mini-market than a larder. The old butler was beckoning from a shadowy open space at the end. I ran and dived in. He slammed the door shut behind me. It was black as pitch for a moment, until I heard the click of a zippo and a small flame illuminated his ghoulish features.

“We’re safe for the moment, sir,” he said. “I’ve locked it.”

As if on cue, the sound of knife striking woodwork. The butler jumped. “Just to be safe, perhaps we’d better move on.”

I got up, dusted myself off and looked around. The flame from the lighter didn’t provide much illumination. The corridor was the width of a small closet, and extended away into the darkness. Dust coated every surface, and cobwebs hung low from the ceiling. The smell of mould and wood rot assaulted my nostrils.

The sound of battering from the door ceased.

“She’s stopped,” I whispered.

“If I know the mistress, she’s thinking of another way,” he replied. “She’s always been quite dogmatic in her pursuits.”

“She does this often?” I said, looking up at him (still an imposing figure, even at his age). “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself earlier. I’m John.”

He shook my hand warmly, a strong and faintly sweaty grip. “Pleasure to meet you, sir. I am Silas. I have been the butler of this residence for over fifty years. Mistress Junifer Vasilikov is the latest in the long line of tenants to occupy it.” A pause for effect. “And possibly the maddest.”

Silas smiled, and pointed down the murky corridor. “Now, I think we had better get a move on. I’m sure Mistress Junifer will be back soon.”

As he languidly hobbled away, I glimpsed back at the sealed secret door. Stuck in a dim, dank corridor with an old guy and a lighter. I guessed I wouldn’t be making a sale tonight…

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 5. A short story.

I ran.

The old butler had a head start into the corridor, but he was shuffling at such an antiquated pace I easily overtook him.

I glanced back at the mad woman approaching from the living room, knife flashing in time to each stride. “Where?” I yelled, manically.

“The kitchen, sir,” he replied, pointing a gnarled digit to the door opposite.

I rushed inside and waited for him to catch up, which he did just as the crazy lady exited the lounge room. “My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner,” she cried, stabbing the knife into the outside of the door as it slammed shut.

The butler and I had our backs to the door. We could hear the mistress of the house wantonly assaulting the woodwork. The kitchen was spacious, with old fashioned appliances, a solid oak island and a large open pantry off to the right. No other exits. “Suggestions?” I said.

“If you hold the door, sir, I will do some investigation.” As he removed his considerable weight to toddle off to the pantry, the mad woman got some purchase and started pushing harder. The narrow gap between door and frame was a combat zone in miniature.

“Why did you invite me in if you knew she had such an issue with vacuums?” I yelled after him. “My mother was killed by a vacuum cleaner!” came a muffled reminder from beyond the door.

The butler’s wizened head poked out of the pantry. “I’m so sorry, sir. My memory’s not what it used to be.”

I rolled my eyes and put my shoulder into the door, reducing some of her progress. The butler stuck his head out again. “I have found a solution to our quandary, sir. There is a secret door in the pantry.”

I looked at him, dumbfounded. “A secret door? What is this place, a gothic castle? Who has secret doors in their pantries?”

“I believe it was left over from the days of the Civil War, sir.”

“So how do I get to this secret door?”

“You’ll have to run.”

“But she’ll get in!”

“I hope you’re a fast runner, then.”

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 4. A short story.

The crazy lady was right up in my face, spittle flicking onto my cheek as she voiced her objection. I backed up, hands raised. “Look, I’m really sorry,” I said. “I really didn’t know you had a tragedy related to…cleaning products.”

As if from nowhere, she extracted a huge butcher’s knife from its hiding place behind her back. It glinted malevolently in her hand, matching the glint in her eye. The yelp that escaped my lips was more feminine than I would have liked. My eyes widened to the size of saucers, adrenaline surged and my voice trembled. “I can see you’re probably planning dinner, so maybe I should take my leave.” I continued backing away.

The redhead stared at me through eyes that were a thin line of vehemence. The knife blade shimmered in the firelight. “My mother was killed…by a vacuum cleaner.”

“Sir?” From behind me, the butler’s shaking voice.

I didn’t dare turn around. “Yes?” I said, my voice breaking involuntarily.

“Run.”

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 3. A short story.

The living room was immense, I almost needed binoculars to identify the furniture. This consisted of a few ornate and dusty lounges, chairs and a worn coffee table, all encircling a huge twenty-foot wide hearth, a fire burning briskly within. Exotic, cobweb-covered chandeliers shone dimly from the ceiling far above—the light they cast had very little impact on the dancing shadows cast by the flames. My previous confidence in a quick sale was evaporating, unlike the sweat forming on my brow from the heat in the room. The butler lurched to a stop by the door, out of breath.

Standing before the crackling fire was a short woman: young and thin, attractive, with shoulder length red hair, dressed in a twenties-style shimmering knee high cocktail dress that had seen better days. “So, you’re a cleaner?” Her voice was accented, something European, but not easily definable.

I smiled and held out my hand. “I’m John,” I said. “I’m here to clean one sofa or floor, obligation free. And all you have to do is watch a demonstration of the amazing Dirby Vacuum Cleaner.”

She shrank back in horror. Guess my pitch needed some work. Her face screwed up in a look of angry intensity, verging on rage. I was taken aback—it wasn’t like I was a Jehovah’s Witness or anything. As she spoke, she ground out each syllable through clenched teeth. “My-mother-was-killed-by-a-vacuum-cleaner.”

Well, that was unexpected.

To be continued…

(And my apologies to any Jehovah’s Witnesses reading this. I have nothing against you, it just sounded funny in context.)

The Sale. Part 2. A short story.

The rain was falling harder now. I raised my collar against the cold and turned to go, lifting the heavy vacuum kit awkwardly beside me.

The door slowly opened with a long creak (it was like it had its own theme song, the patter of rain the accompanying percussion). I turned and jumped.

The fellow in the doorway was huge, at least seven feet tall, with a face so wrinkled and jowls so pronounced it looked like it was melting. He was dressed in a butler’s coat and tails, and as he opened his mouth the harsh intake of breath that preceded his words sounded like a death rattle. “Yes?”

Don’t stare a gift horse in the mouth. Or at least, the chest. “Hi there.” A broad smile and hand outstretched, false confidence disguising nervousness. “I represent Dirby Vacuum Cleaners, and we’re offering an obligation-free clean. I’ll vacuum one sofa or the floor of one room within your house, to demonstrate how versatile and powerful the Dirby is. Best vacuum on the market.” I patted the top of the kit like it was a good dog.

He stared down at me without emotion and his aged voice seemed to mimic the creak of the door as he spoke. “I’ll have to ask the mistress of the house.” The door closed. I stood, tapping my foot anxiously. A few minutes later he returned. “The mistress will see you in the living room.”

The butler led me slowly through the entryway, every shuffling footstep at an agonising tortoise-like pace. My previous fears were evaporating quickly. I was keen to get the kit unpacked, clean the floor and demonstrate how good this vacuum was—butler and big mansion equalled money to waste, and this was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to miss…

To be continued…

The Sale. Part 1. A short series.

I’ve just started a new uni subject, and one of the threads on the discussion boards is about re-writing clichés. This is my first post from that thread (it’s not part of the marking process so I can post it here now, otherwise I would have to wait until the course was over).

I’m going to continue this series on a semi-regular basis.

 

It was a dark and stormy night.

Okay, it wasn’t really that dark. There were big street lights, like super A-grade halogens (the city council must have had a bigger budget in this town than my last). And I guess a light drizzle wasn’t really a storm, but I hated getting wet.

I wandered up to the old house, knocked on the door. Three knocks (always three knocks. I must have been a bit compulsive). Called out to see if anyone was home. Nobody answered. It was a grand old place, three stories, Tudor styling, three chimneys, nice iron fittings and railings. Stone gargoyles hanging somewhat out of place from the eaves. Your average suburban gothic chic. But I wasn’t going to let a creepy place and some damp weather stop me from making a sale. No way. I was going to sell a vacuum cleaner to these people if it killed me.

Famous last words…

To be continued…

 

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