Outside looking in…

Excerpt from Chapter Six:

“What do we do now?” Sophia asked.
“Do you still want more of these flowers?”
“Oh, my God. No!”
“Me either.”
“Let’s go, then,” Sophia said, turning away.
“God bless your poor soul,” Hannah whispered.
Sophia turned back around. “It feels awful just turning away, doesn’t it?”
“I feel responsible, somehow,” Hannah whispered, glancing up to the clouds.
“We could call in an anonymous tip from a pay phone. Or, maybe Gary wouldn’t rat us out if we tell him.”
“Maybe so.” Hannah scooped up a dropped a glove and paused for one last look at the house as Sophia followed behind the girls toward the driveway.
The windows were silvery reflections of the metal gray sky. Her eyes followed down the contours of the shingles and shutters to the thick stone foundation below. She hadn’t noticed before, but there was a cellar door directly beneath one of the windows at the first floor. The window had rotting curtains that were pulled to the side and the shade was rolled up.
She approached the window and carefully stepped up onto the left side of the double wooden cellar doors. The frame was squeezed between two bays, the larger one topped at the second story with a hipped dormer, and the other with a gable at the third floor. The tall, angled doors reminded her of an old children’s song her mother used to sing. ‘Hey, hey, hey, playmate, come out and play with me…’
A large metal flue pipe emerged from the wall to her left, indicating there must be a stove on the other side of this bay. She reached for the window sill and pulled herself up, one foot on the door frame and one beneath the window.
Sophia stopped and looked back, calling out for the girls to wait. She put her hands on her hips in protest. “What in the heck are you doing?”
“I’m just looking.”
“Looking for what? The murderer?”
“Hush, you! It’s just an empty kitchen. It looks like no one’s been here for years.”
Hannah peered inside at a wall of white painted shelving and bare wood counters, illuminated yellow through the shades of the other windows. The room was large and essentially uncluttered, with cobweb draped dishes and bowls neatly arranged on the shelves as if on display for Halloween.
Across from the window was an open archway leading into a dark space, and then, like at the end of a hallway, she could see an open door to dimly lit room beyond. She knew this room had triple hung sash windows because she had seen them from the outside. Something in the room was covered with a white drop cloth, like an enormous bed. Beyond that, there were only dark, shadowy shapes and the reflection of a mirror on the wall.
She turned to look for Sophia. “You really should come see. I wish I had a cam…”
A sudden burst of wind whipped through the trees and a sharp metallic clatter came from somewhere up inside the house. Like a knee under the hammer, Hannah jumped, yelping a mix of several words put together that came out something like a dog’s bark, and she put her foot down hard on the doors to push away.
Instead of propelling her off as she intended the doors groaned and gave way slightly under her feet, and with an ear splitting crack the entire surface crumbled away. Her eyes caught a glimpse of every millimeter of progress as she crashed down through the splintered wood.
She heard a scream above her, but she didn’t know where it came from. It was as though she were outside of herself, watching it all happen through a wide angled lens. She knew when her head cracked against something unforgiving, but she didn’t exactly feel the blow. She felt her shirt catching on splintered wood and nails as she went down, tearing her sleeves and scraping her skin, but the pain only marginally registered. Nothing, none of it compared to the panic that burst inside her as she hit the stone floor at the bottom, landing in a pile of rotten wood from a long decayed staircase.
There was a sharp pain in her leg and the blow to her head blinded her with white sparkles behind her eyes. She reached down and felt something protruding from her left thigh. With a wave of nausea, she ran her fingers over it and around it and then timidly looked. It was a nail driven in through her jeans, rusty and still attached to a sliver of wood. The blurry sight of it stole what was left of her consciousness and she slumped back into the debris.


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