Under the House
by Jeani Rector
Her father was yelling again.
Ten year old Kayla cringed, even though this time the screams were directed at her mother, and not at her. Kayla wished for the courage to rush in and save her mother. But she didn't, and despised herself for being the coward that she was.
Instead Kayla began to slink away, out of the house. Because her father's wrath was directed elsewhere, she would not be noticed as she made her getaway. If she could disappear, perhaps she could avoid her father's fury, which always ended in brutal beatings.
Once outside, Kayla noticed a hole in the clapboards that crisscrossed underneath the back porch. Well, this is new, she thought. The hole hadn't been there yesterday.
Could she hide in there? Doubtfully Kayla peered under the stairs. It seemed pretty dark under there.
And then suddenly Kayla heard her father's voice coming closer. No time to decide! She went through the hole in the clapboards and scooted under the house to hide.
The temperature was cooler down there. It smelled funny too…musty, moldy, like mushrooms. Kayla waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness before she continued further into the underbelly of the house.
Since daylight was streaming in through the hole, she could see a few feet in front of her. She could see that the house was held up by wooden supports, surrounded by a brick foundation. The ground was earthen and dark. She saw some garbage, and she wondered, How did that stuff get there, underneath the house? There were a few opened cans and some rotting, discarded paper.
It was amazing how much she could hear down there. She could hear her mother and father talking very loudly, and walking in the house. In fact, this new hiding place would not only be a safety zone, but one in which she could probably eavesdrop as well.
Kayla was thinking that once she was under there, it did not seem as frightening as it had looked from the outside. Perhaps this would indeed make a great hiding place for when...well, for when she had to hide.
And then things upstairs quieted down. Kayla realized that everything had become okay once again. Now there was no more need to hide, because up in the house, all the yelling had suddenly stopped. That gave Kayla the "all clear."
She scrambled back through the hole in the clapboards and stood in the open sunlight outside. It would be safe to go back into the house now, and check on her mother.
And when her father sobered up, life would become smoother, and her mother would smile once again. The seas of life would remain calm. Until the next storm.
Groggily she was aware of a noise. It was dark, and when Kayla became fully awake, she realized that she was in her bed. She burrowed deeper into her blankets, and put her hands over her ears because she didn't want to hear the screams coming from the next room.
Despite covering her ears, Kayla heard her mother's voice. "Leave her alone!"
"I'll get that brat up out of bed!" yelled her father. "I'll teach her!"
She heard her mother scream, but Kayla knew that nothing could stop him. So it was her turn this time to become the victim of his wrath, not her mother. Kayla knew her father would burst into her bedroom at any second. She had to get away!
And now she knew where she could go. She knew a place to hide.
Aren't you afraid of the dark? Kayla's inner voice whispered. It will be dark under the house because it's night time now.
But anything was better than sticking around here. She made her choice before she gave herself time to think about it. Her father was coming for her!
Kayla threw off the covers and jumped out of bed, landing nimbly on her feet. Rushing to the window, she lifted the sash. Thank god she lived in a one-storey house.
Just as she was scrambling out the window, she could hear the door to her bedroom burst open behind her. As Kayla dropped to the outside ground, she could hear her father's voice roar in anger as he realized she was escaping. There would be hell to pay now.
Wearing only a cotton nightdress and underpants, Kayla felt, with bare feet, the cool grass that was slick with dew. She couldn't take the time to be careful; Please god, don't let me slip. She didn't look behind; she couldn't risk any mistakes.
Instead she ran for her life, turning the corner of the house to head for the backyard where she knew the hole in the clapboards waited for her. She leaned forward, her knees pumping, her breath wheezing, her lungs beginning to hurt. If only she could get under the house in time!
She reached the hole under the porch. She took a deep breath and scooted into it. She tumbled inside onto the hardpan dirt, and rolled twice until she came to a stop. She tried to be quiet, tried to hold her breath, but her lungs were bursting and she had to breathe hard.
She could hear her father giving chase. Had he seen where she had gone? But then she ducked her head under her arm as she heard him run past the hole in the clapboards.
He hadn't seen where she went! Could she dare to relax?
Kayla took her head out from underneath her arm. Better to not risk feeling smug; she had better make sure her father wouldn't find her. She had better go deeper underneath the house.
But it's dark, her inner voice whispered. You never had a chance to explore here yet. You don't know what's down here.
Again, Kayla felt that she had no choice. After all, what was she more afraid of? The unknown couldn't be as bad as the known. And her father's drunken rages were very well known to her.
So she scrambled deeper under the house into the bowels of the crawlspace. The darkness enveloped her; it surrounded her in an almost surreal eclipse of light. Her sense of smell sharpened to compensate for her lack of sight. Her nostrils filled with the moldy and rich scent of moist, muddy earth.
The crawlspace was too low for her to stand, so Kayla felt her way over the ground as she crawled on her hands and knees. She could feel small pebbles, and then she felt one of the discarded cans that she had noticed the last time she had been down here. She tossed the can aside, careful not to cut herself on the rusted metal.
Finally she figured she had crawled far enough not to be seen if her father wised up and peered through the hole in the clapboards. She felt she had gone far enough to escape detection if he did.
So she curled up into a ball and waited, listening intently for sounds coming from the house above her. She could hear the front door open and close. Her father must have made the entire round of the house, and when he didn't find her, he must have gone back inside. What was her mother doing? Kayla could hear nothing upstairs except the sounds made by her father.
Why was her mother so quiet? Even odder, why wasn't her father screaming? It would be more normal for Kayla to hear him shouting abuse than to hear this silence.
There came a scraping noise that seemed to move across the floorboards. Kayla strained to listen, but she couldn't make sense of the sounds. And then she heard the back door swing open.
Oh no! Was her father coming back outside to look for her once again?
Cringing in fright, Kayla scrambled sideways like a crab to travel deeper underneath the house. She couldn't see in the darkness, so she started with surprise as she literally hit a brick wall. She was cornered against the foundation that held up the house. There was no where else to go. So she crouched; waiting, fearing. She tried to make herself as small as humanly possible.
An ax! She could hear her father chopping at the clapboards. How had he known she was down here?
Kayla heard the boards being pulled away. He must have put down the ax because now she could hear that he was using his hands. She could see the light entering from the hole he was making. Even though it was night outside, it was still lighter out there than it was underneath the house. She couldn't see five inches in front of her down here, but she could see outside the hole...she could see light from the opening.
And then something blocked the hole, but only for a moment. Light shined in again. And then her father blocked the hole. He was coming inside! He was pushing something in front of him.
Kayla braced herself. He had found her. Now he would grab her and drag her outside. And then he would take her into the house and beat her within an inch of her life. So she hadn't escaped after all. There was never any escape.
But just as she resigned herself to her fate, her father reversed direction and backed out of the hole. Kayla was stunned. What did that mean?
And then she realized that the hole in the clapboards was being blocked again. Except this time, her father was nailing the boards back into place. He was closing the hole!
She was being buried alive!
Fear froze her; she remained immobile. She waited for her father to finish nailing the clapboards back into place. Under the house, it became dark as a tomb; as dark as death. With the hole completely closed, there was no light at all from any source whatsoever.
Still Kayla could not bring herself to move. She waited. And then she heard the back door slam, and she understood that her father had gone back inside the house.
Finally Kayla decided to take action. She thought she would crawl to the place where the hole was covered and test her father's handiwork. Maybe he hadn't taken too much care with the patch job. Maybe he hadn't nailed the boards down very securely. Maybe Kayla could push the boards back out if she leaned hard on them, and she could set herself free.
Where she would go once she got out, she didn't know. But she would deal with that later. Now, she just needed to get out from under the house.
She began to creep back over the hardpan earth. She felt her way along, because it was too dark to see. She desperately hoped she remembered the direction of the back porch stairs. She had mental images of herself crawling through the bowels of the house for an eternity, hopelessly lost.
She could tell she was headed in the right direction, because the dirt began to feel warmer under her fingers. It would make sense that the sunlight had warmed the area closet to the back porch earlier in the day. It had not totally cooled down yet, even though Kayla figured it was probably around midnight now.
She moved forward an inch, touched the ground in front of her, and then moved forward another inch. It was a slow progress, but it was the only way.
And then her fingers felt an obstacle in her path. It seemed to be blocking her way. It must have been the thing that her father had pushed ahead of him, before he entered the crawlspace himself. Before he had then left and boarded her in.
She desperately wished she could see.
Instead, her fingers nervously probed the object in front of her. It felt smooth and clammy; moist. And warm. Repulsed, she quickly withdrew her fingers.
A horrible thought was dawning on her. She suddenly understood.
She had always been such a coward. She had never run for help, had never gone to a neighbor or a teacher. Her father had threatened her to not tell anyone, ever, about the abuse. But why hadn't her mother done anything? Who was the adult and who was the child?
After Kayla crawled over her mother's prone body, she reached the clapboards. Pushing, she rocked the repair job her father had done until a nail holding one of the boards popped free. Kayla knew the boards would come off to make another hole.
And then Kayla could escape again.
© 2008 Jeani Rector
Bio: Jeani Rector grew up reading Stephen King novels. Halloween is her favorite holiday. Her two children sing "The Rector Family" to the tune of The Addams Family. It is all in good fun and actually, most people who know Jeani personally are of the opinion that she is a very normal person. She just writes abnormal stories. Doesn't everybody? For more about Jeani Rector, check out Open Grave - The Book of Horror. This is Ms. Rector's fifth Aphelion short story entry; her Southern gothic maybe-ghost-story, Cold Spot, appeared in the August 2008 issue.
E-mail: Jeani Rector
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