R. C. Smith Short Stories and Vignettes

Do not read my works if you are offended by descriptions of sexuality and violence.
(Do not read them just for those descriptions, either.)

The Basement

Audio read by RC (5:58)

Death, for him, came unexpected, and instantly. A heavy truck, ignoring a stop sign, ripped the light motor bike and its rider to shreds, on a country road not far from the apartment at the edge of town, where he had lived. For her, death took much longer. In the darkness, in the basement of the old house that he had owned, isolated, at the edge of a large wood, an hour and a half away on his bike, she did not die from thirst, for there was a water-tap on one of the walls, and a drain on the ground underneath of it, nor did she die from asphyxiation, for there was an air shaft that led to the roof, but air and water are not the only things one needs to live, and eventually, she died of hunger.

It was weeks after his death before anyone set their foot into the house, a woman who worked for the notary who handled the legacy. She noticed that the house was well furnished and looked lived in, it looked as if he had spent at least as much time here as in his apartment in the town. There were clothes that must have been his. There was food bread had gone moldy, fruits had started to rot, but the kitchen was well stocked with non-perishable provisions, and most of what was in the fridge would still be edible. On a table stood the dried up and mildewed remnants of what must have been a sumptuous cake, half eaten, which might have been fresh on the day before his death.

The house held no surprises, but there was this door which, since it neither led to another room nor to the roof, had to lead to a basement. It was a heavy door, with a safety lock to which she did not have a key, and it fit tightly. There was no way she could open it, so she returned a few days later, with a locksmith. When they finally got it open, a wave of stench almost took their breaths away, but with their noses covered with pieces of cloth, and after a little accomodation, they felt ready to go in the locksmith, his work done, stayed to join her from a mix of curiosity and chivalry. It was dark inside, but the light switch next to the door, on the outside, worked, and a bare light bulb illuminated the equally bare room that lay at the bottom of a flight of stairs.

The girl, the young woman, lying on the ground in an almost peaceful position, was clearly dead. Her thin naked body was covered in marks whip marks, burn marks, welts, cuts and bruises. The autopsy, later, would find broken bones, damages to her breasts, her vulva and her vagina, and a lot of other injuries, in different stages of healing. None of them had caused her death, though starvation had.

Of all this, the woman and the locksmith only took in a short, horrified first impression, before they turned back, to call the police. They waited outside the house the locksmith, now a witness at a crime scene, had to wait with her but then, something made them go back in, something they had seen, but which had not fully registered. It was, of course, for the police to investigate the house, but, curiosity edged them on. That door ... On the outside, it had a door knob. You needed the key to open the door turn the key to the left, pull the knob. When you closed the door, it fell into the lock. On the inside, on the basement side, though, there was a handle. No keyhole. They tried the handle, with the open door. Then they hesitated, but they felt they had to know. He stayed outside he knew now how to open it, if he had to she drew a deep breath, and then she went in. He closed the door. She waited, as long as she could hold her breath, then she pressed down the handle. They looked at each other, through the open door, in mutual incomprehension.

This was what would keep haunting her, much more than the body of the dead girl. It did not make any sense, did it? But in some nights, when, once again, she could not find sleep, she sometimes thought that, maybe, she understood.

(For Gemma, 09/2020, minor edits 02/2022)

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