Darren lifted up the food bucket and started down the corridor. He walked quickly, focusing on keeping the bucket steady. The bucket was filled with food, maggots and grubs, they writhed over one another, the sight of it still made him a little unsteady. He didn’t have to touch the things, which was a bonus. The corridor was mostly empty, it was still early, or late depending on your view. Darren had been up for almost an hour at this point, finishing off his chores.
When he first began chores he resented it, after all they were rich, they had servants, surely some of them could pick up the slack, but his father was insistent. He needed to know how to do everything himself and earn his keep. Most of the jobs were simple enough, feed some of the animals, a little tidying around the stables. This job though, this was the worst. He was the only person permitted to do this job, but he was just thankful he wasn’t in charge of collecting the food.
He was sure that the servants knew about the secret tunnel, but his father was adamant it be kept a secret from everyone. At the very least who ever gathered the food must have wondered where it all went day after day. The secret tunnel was in the wine cellar, behind some old, heavy looking wooden casks. Once you knew the trick they were easy enough to move out of the way, revealing a stone staircase that twisted down. Darren was still nervous on the stairs, worried that he’d fall down the endless spiral and bounce right into the creatures lair, broken and battered and ready for eating. At some point there had been handrails, probably made of rope, but they had long since rotted away and no one had bothered to replace them. Darren had floated the idea to his father once or twice and received a condescending look in reply.
The stair case was well lit, which was something. Electric lights had been strung from the ceiling. Darren and his father were the only ones who came down here, so he suspected it was his father who replaced the bulbs. His mother and sisters were forbidden from entering the staircase. Apparently the monster didn’t like women, or liked them too much. Darren was never quite clear on that, nor did he ever want to find out.
The large metal door wasn’t locked, not really. It had a latch that could be opened from the outside and that was all. His father had told him the first time he had come down here that real locks would enrage the beast. He placed his hand on the cold metal handle, took one last deep breath of clean air and opened the door.
The stench hit him first, as it always did, a solid wall of nauseating air. He started with quick, shallow breaths, trying to keep as much of the tainted air as possible out of his body. He entered the gloomy room, there were no lights in here, but it was never dark. It was left in this perpetual gloom. He stepped inside, tense as always. He could hear it snuffling and snorting, it was getting restless, it wanted its food. Darren grabbed the end of the bucket and flung the contents across the floor. As the first bits of food hit there was a pig like squeal and the creature came barrelling forward. Darren looked away, once the bucket was empty he left.
He saw the creature for the first time when he was five and that was more than enough to last him a lifetime. The thing had white, pallid skin, with weird bulges that oozed pus and wriggling maggots. Its eyes were a milky white, its nose was long and wide, its mouth a black hole filled with crooked and sharp teeth. Its hands had long and delicate looking fingers with sharp nails, it could walk and when standing it had towered over his father, but mostly it crawled along the ground.
He had been told the story afterwards, about why they kept the creature, why they fed it. The creature had been captured by one of his ancestors, no one quite knew how long ago, and a deal was struck. Apparently the creature had been quite intelligent when it was first captured, insisting on tables and chairs and food served on plates, but overtime it devolved into that thing. It was responsible for the wealth and prosperity of the family and would continue to be until either it died or was released. The creature, like others of its kind, were hunted until there were only a few left. The one they held was one of only a few scattered across the world. Darren feared that someday the intelligence would reappear, that it would be offended by the food it was given, by the treatment. He closed the door behind himself and resecured the latch.
The walk up the stairs seemed endless, there were no markings to tell him how much further he had to go. When he was younger he sometimes feared that he had gotten stuck here, that the creature had done something and now he would just walk up forever, never finding the door. Sometimes he would hear a skittering noise from below, when he was younger he would bolt, running up the stairs before sealing them off and collapsing outside the casks, gasping for air. Now he just ignored it. The creature moved quickly, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to outrun it, besides, he would have heard the door opening below.
Darren placed the bucket back in its usual spot then went back to his room, ready for a shower to wash off the stink of the creature that always seemed to cling to his skin and clothes. Once he had showered he felt well enough to eat breakfast, which was always something small and light. After eating he grabbed his bag and went outside. He stood on the steps outside, eyes closed and feeling the sun on his skin. It always made him feel better after seeing that thing. The air was fresh and carried the scents of flowers from the immaculately tended gardens. Behind him he could hear his sisters approaching, Angela, the eldest, would drop him and Karen, the youngest, to school on her way to work. Karen burst from the hall door, “C’mon, I don’t want to be late!”
“You’re never late!”
“No, we were late last week!”
“For the first time ever.”
Karen was already getting into the car.
“C’mon, hurry up, she won’t relax until we’re on the road.”
Darren opened his eyes and walked down the steps. He took another deep breath of the air before getting into the car, really, it was a small price to pay for all of this.