I can still see the lights of the Christmas tree bleeding onto the white painted wall beside them. It was like an abstract painting on a blank, bleak canvas. For the duration of the gathering, it was one of only two things I let my gaze wander on. The other was a plain, white door separating the rest of the house from the cellar. Sometimes, I would feel my vision swim as the lights blended together, a piece ever growing more and more abstract. The din of the party swam into my ear and out the other end like a groggy koi fish. At times I would not even feel my fingernails digging into the rough surface of the cheap brown couch I was sitting on.
“What ya lookin’ at?” A rough female voice spoke, uncomfortably close to my ear. On the inside I was startled, but outside I simply turned my head towards the voice as though moving through water, and blinked.
“Huh?” I asked, seeing the wrinkly face of my aunt looking back at me. There was a red glass of wine in her hand. Her hair was like gray waves flowing to her shoulders with black spots of pepper mixed in.
“You’re staring out into space, what do you see?” As she raised the glass to her lips, I could hear every gulp and slosh of the liquid as it went down her throat.
“Nothing, I just zoned out.”
“Well come talk to your uncles, you barely see them anymore!”
“I know…I mean, maybe later.” I replied neutrally, trying to turn my head back to look at the wall.
I shouldn’t have had this party here. I shouldn’t have given in to the pressure.
“Why won’t you talk to me? You never talk to me…” My aunt said, hurt spreading like blood in the river of her voice.
“Where are they?” I asked, cutting her off.
“Well, your uncle Terry, James and Warren are in the dining room.”
His name was Warren. I’d forgotten. I stood up at once and moved through the house without saying another word. On my way to the dining room, I stopped short at the door to the basement. As I paused, everything around me seemed to grow quiet again. For a moment I thought that this cream colored portal would swing open to reveal the gaping maw of the darkness below. I had placed a single Amazon box in front of it, and instructed all the guests not to go down there. Flooding, I had said.
“Heyyyyyy, look who it is!” My uncle, Warren, called from the next room. I turned to see the three balding men holding beers seated around my dining room table. At Warren’s call the other two uncles made a dangerous roar that shook the walls of my ear canals.
“Come sit with us big guy, you came to visit us!” Uncle James said, pulling out a chair for me to sit on.
“We’re visiting him, ya doofus!” Uncle Terry scolded jokingly, slapping his brother playfully on the arm. I gave one last look to the basement door before awkwardly picking my way into the living room and lowering myself into the seat.
“Man, you’ve got everything here! How’d you get a place this nice?” Uncle Warren asked as his bulging eyes bore into me in a way I’m sure was friendly, though I didn’t feel its warmth. As he said this, Uncle Warren took a butter knife and cut into the meatloaf on the plate in front of him. The knife screeched against the plate below it as it cut.
“It’s not that much, it’s kinda small.” I replied, almost in a mutter.
“Bigger than my trailer!” Uncle James laughed, slamming his beer back down on the table, a clunking sound radiating from the bottom of the can.
“Hey, did you see the big game?” Uncle Terry asked.
“Are you gonna?”
“I’ll think about it.”
All my uncles laughed, and I realized at once that I’d said something strange. In the past my face would have flushed, but I didn’t allow it. I sat quietly as I waited for them to finish.
“Hey, your sister is upstairs, why don’t you go say hello?” Warren urged. I stole another glance towards the basement door, but it was blocked from my sight by the wall.
“Alright.” I said, my voice quiet but firm. The chair screeched underneath me as I stood up, and I felt their eyes upon me as I shuffled to the stairs.
Before I had even fully cleared the last step, I felt my sister crash into me, almost sending me back down the steps to my demise.
“Oh. I. Am. SO. SORRY!” She screeched, the sound piercing my brain like an adamantine spear. I looked up. My sister had long messy red hair, and was extremely pregnant. She pulled me roughly up to the landing by my arm, and looked me over.
“I haven’t seen you since, well, since I got here. How you BEEN?” I felt as though the sonic wave she sent at me would once again send me tumbling.
“Do you wanna feel the baby?”
“Oh come on!”
“Oh, you’re no fun.” Below, I could hear my other guests chattering away. All the sounds of the evening rose in my ears, until I felt the cacophony enveloping my entire being.
“You don’t look so good.” My sister said.
“I’ll be back.” I said. In a flash, I bounded down the stairs two at a time. I hoped no one would pay me any mind as I flew towards the basement door. Moving the box blocking it aside, I pried open the door. Below, I saw the exact open maw I thought I’d see.
The concrete steps stretched down, seemingly into infinity, like a row of smooth teeth going all the way to the back of a throat. I quickly hopped to the first step and shut the door tight, locking it in the same motion. I could still hear the voices through the door. Though here it was muffled, as though I were hearing it from underwater. I stopped to catch my breath, only stopping for a moment to consider how melodramatic I had been. I shook off the thought and gazed into the darkness below me. I took a deep breath, and took another step down. Each step I took was like diving deeper into the waves, and each step creaked like the screaming of a whale. The basement was unfinished, the only remnant of the house this once was. The floor and walls were hard and cold, and the gaps in the walls were nests for spiders and other creatures, twisting their jagged limbs as they slowly pushed their way through the darkness.
In the far corner of the room, there were only shadows. As I stepped towards the center, I finally felt silence. But there was something wrong down here. I could feel, rather than hear, something living. My eyes adjusted ever so slightly to the gloom, and I saw the edge of a circle, drawn in chalk, by me.
“You so rarely come visit me anymore.” A voice, it was smooth yet rough. Slippery yet hard. It reverberated through every hair on my body until I could feel it in every bone and every tissue of flesh. My throat was dry, and I couldn’t find the words before the voice spoke again.
“Oh my dear, poor master. You look so pale….Won’t you take a seat.”
Despite the cold, clammy walls surrounding me, there was an uncomfortable warmth in the voice. At the end of each utterance, I could hear a soft clicking sound as jagged teeth settled and grinded together. I still found myself unable to speak as I lowered myself to the cold basement floor. I heard the subtle sound of a smack as the unseen lips opened to speak once again.
“Rough night? I’m so glad you came to see me, you know. I’ve been a good and faithful servant, haven’t I?” The voice became even smoother, as if turning over liquid mercury in its tongue.
“Wouldn’t you consider…” The voice began again, but I cut it off.
“I want them to go away.” I said, firmly.
“I want silence, I want them all gone!” I insisted. There was silence for a moment, I expected to hear a low, rumbling laugh like an earthquake. But instead, the voice became calm, soothing.
“Oh, you poor thing. Is that what you really want? It’s only one night…”
I didn’t allow myself to think.
“I don’t want anyone to bother me again, that’s my wish.”
“For a wish like that, you’d need to set me free.”
“Then you’re free, get out.” I thrust my foot out, smearing the circle of chalk.
“As you wish.”
I expected something explosive, like the fires of hell billowing out all around to consume me. But instead, I knew only silence. I looked around me, peering cautiously into the dark corner of my basement. But I saw nothing. I walked with shaky legs up the stairs, and it seemed that even the ancient steps leading out of the cellar would scream.
I pried open the door, and it looked as if the gloom of the basement had spread into the upstairs.
I stepped out and looked to the couch in the living room.
My Aunt wasn’t there.
I looked behind me at the dining room table.
My Uncles weren’t there.
I slid to the base of the stairs leading further up.
My Sister wasn’t there.
I gazed about myself, disoriented. The only light remaining in the house was the dim glow of the Christmas tree, thrust into the corner. I shakily took the remote from the coffee table, and clicked the on button. The TV was silent.
I stood there in silence for a moment, not even allowing myself to breathe. I went to the front door and opened it. There was nothing outside. Not the blinding darkness of night, simply nothing. A void, with nowhere to leave. I said nothing, and lowered myself back onto the couch. My gaze once again comes to rest on the wall, with the lights of the Christmas tree reflecting onto it. I stare until the colors all blend together.