The door to the basement was in the kitchen. It was the only door that remained securely shut, as if even the drunken teenagers who vandalized the place had wanted to keep whatever was down there sealed in. It was stuck, the frame warped from water and settling, and Ben had to yank hard to get it open.
A stench of damp dirt and worms and fungus and rotting animals belched up from the dark bowels. He aimed his powerful police-style flashlight down the stairs. Its narrow white beam looked strong and bold for a few feet, but then seemed to be swallowed by darkness.
Sarah followed him down the creaking stairs. She had descended only two or three steps when she felt cobwebs clinging to her face. When she reached the dirt floor, it felt damp and slippery. Odd that it would still be wet after this long dry spell.
She thought she could feel bugs crawling on her bare arms and legs—surely her imagination. She wished she were wearing shoes instead of sandals; snakes or rats might be waiting in the muck. The stench of mildew and dead animals was overpowering.
Shelves with buckets and cans seemed to sway in the puny beam of Ben’s flashlight. Sarah glanced up at the doorway glowing faintly at the top of the stairs. Its light seemed to stay up there, unable to penetrate this reeking gloom. There were things crawling on her feet and ankles. She lifted one foot and then the other, slapping them again and again, but the invisible crawlers weren’t deterred.
“I’d rather be in Philly,” Ben said.
His voice, like the light, seemed to dissolve in the darkness. He swept his flashlight across the floor, searching for the graves.
“There they are,” he said, his voice crumbling so quickly that Sarah wasn’t certain he had said anything.
They moved carefully on the slippery dirt toward the two adjacent holes. The light seemed unwilling to enter them; the most the flashlight could do was make them glow vaguely. Surprisingly, teenage wits had not filled them with beer cans—the gaping graves were immaculate in their muck. Black water lay at the bottom of each hole.
Sarah heard a deep rumble, followed by the hiss of rain. Time seemed to collapse, annihilating the distance between this moment and the rainy day when the bodies had been found in these two holes. It seemed to her that two powerful fists had compressed all the sadism of history into two wads of black horror that gaped hungrily at her feet, wanting her too, wanting her and Ben, one wad of horror for each of them. She felt the basement’s darkness press heavily against her shoulders, weighing her down, absorbing her strength and giving it back as despair.
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