The foyer is gone. Instead I drop about eight feet and face-plant in dusty, cold dirt. A few deep breaths get the wind back in my lungs and on reflex I pull my legs up, not thinking anything but what the f**k? When my brain switches on again I wait in a half-crouch and flex my quads. I’m lucky to have both of my legs still in working order, but where the hell am I? My body feels just about ready to run out of adrenaline. Wherever this is, it’s dark, and it smells. I try to keep my breathing shallow so I don’t panic, and also so I don’t breathe in too much. It reeks of damp and rot. Lots of things have either died down here or died elsewhere and been stuffed here.
That thought makes me reach back for my knife, my sharp, throat-cutting security blanket, as I look around. I recognize the ethereal gray light from the house; it’s leaking down through what I guess are floorboards. Now that my eyes are adjusted, I see that the walls and floor are part dirt and part rough-cut stone. My mind does a quick replay of me walking up the front porch steps and coming through the door. How did I end up in the basement?
“Anna?” I call softly, and the ground lurches beneath my feet. I steady myself against a wall, but the surface under my hand isn’t dirt. It’s squishy. And moist. And it’s breathing.
The corpse of Mike Andover is half-submerged in the wall. I was resting my hand against its stomach. Mike’s eyes are closed, like he’s sleeping. His skin looks darker and looser than it was before. He’s rotting, and from the way he’s situated in the rocks, I get the impression that the house is slowly taking him over. It’s digesting him.
I move away a few steps. I’d really rather he not tell me about it.
A soft shuffling sound gets my attention and I turn to see a figure hobbling toward me, like it’s drunk, wobbling and lurching. The shock of not being alone is momentarily eclipsed by the heaving of my stomach. It’s a man, and he reeks of piss and used-up booze. He’s dressed in dirty clothes, an old tattered trench coat and pants with holes in the knees. Before I can get out of the way, a look of fear crosses his face. His neck twists around on his shoulders like it’s a bottle cap. I hear the long crunch of his spinal cord and he crumples to the ground at my feet.
I’m starting to wonder if I ever woke up at all. Then, for some reason, my father’s voice bubbles up between my ears.
“Don’t be afraid of the dark, Cas. But don’t let them tell you that everything that’s there in the dark is also there in the light. It isn’t.”
Thanks, Dad. Just one of the many creepy pearls of wisdom you had to impart.
But he was right. Well, right about the last part at least. My blood is pounding and I can feel the jugular vein in my neck. Then I hear Anna speak.
“Do you see what I do?” she asks, but before I can answer, she surrounds me with corpses, more than I can count, strewn across the floor like trash, and piled up to the ceiling, arms and legs arranged together in a grotesque braid. The stench is horrible. In the corner of my eye, I see one move, but when I look closer I realize that it’s the movements of bugs feeding on the body, twisting beneath the skin and lifting it in impossible little flutters. Only one thing on the bodies moves of its own power: The eyes roll lazily back and forth in their heads, mucus-covered and milky, like they’re trying to see what’s happening to them but no longer have the energy.
“Anna,” I say softly.
“These are not the worst,” she hisses. She’s got to be kidding. Some of these corpses have had horrible things done to them. They’re missing limbs or all of their teeth. They’re covered in dried blood from a hundred crusted-over cuts. And too many of them are young. Faces like mine or younger than mine, with the cheeks torn away and mold on their teeth. When I look back behind me and realize that Mike’s eyes have opened, I know I have to get out of here. Ghost-hunting be damned, to hell with the family legacy, I’m not staying one minute longer in a room filling up with bodies.
I’m not claustrophobic, but right now I seem to have to tell myself so very loudly. Then I see what I didn’t have time to before. There’s a staircase, leading up to the main level. I don’t know how she had me step directly into the basement, and I don’t care. I just want back up in the foyer. And once I’m up there, I want to forget what’s residing underneath my feet.
I make for the stairs, and that’s when she sends the water, gushing in and rising up from everywhere—cracks in the walls, seeping up right through the floor. It’s filthy, as much slime as it is liquid, and in seconds it’s creeping up to my waist. I start to panic as the corpse of the bum with the broken neck floats past. I do not want to be swimming with them. I don’t want to think about everything that’s under the water, and my mind’s eye makes up something really stupid, like corpses from the bottom of the stacks opening their jaws suddenly and scrambling out along the floor, hurrying to grab my legs like crocodiles. I push past the bum, bobbing like a wormy apple, and am surprised to hear a little moan escape my lips. I’m going to gag.