Brian moved through the house, listening to his footsteps echo off the walls. It was so empty now, once it had been full of people, full of life and laughter. That was all gone now. They were all gone and it was his fault, he had driven them all away, one by one. Most left during the night, vanishing between bedtime and breakfast, only a three were brave enough to leave during the day. Alicia was the only one who strode confidently down the hall, bags in hand, the others had slipped out while everyone was distracted. There had been twenty people here in the beginning, now it was just him.
Below there was a loud crash, he could feel the vibrations in his feet. He didn’t bother checking on it, there was nothing irreplaceable down there, mostly it was just junk furniture or clothes. When he was a child he would sometimes go exploring in the basement. Pretending to be in a new world, or a secret place, he would pick his way through boxes of junk and peer into dressers, looking for elusive treasure. He had enjoyed going down there, it was dark and shadowy, but still bright enough to see. It gave the entire basement a deliciously creepy feel, most of the time he felt like he was being watched, though he was old enough to know that there was nothing there. The explorations had come to an abrupt end one day when his grandmother caught him going down the basement stairs. She had screamed at him for hours then beat him with a belt. It was the first and only time she had ever raised a hand to him. She had come to him later that night, sobbing and apologising, but still she made him swear he would never go down into the basement again. He had kept that promise for almost fifteen years.
Brian had never seen what lived in the basement, but he knew it was there. Living off old memories and insects that scurried from the light. His father had told him of it when he inherited the house, joking and laughing about the tales his mother used to tell. Brian knew his father had never been in that basement. Even as an adult. Brian had talked about emptying it out, maybe converting it to a useful room but his father always told him it was a bad idea. A waste of time. There always seemed to be an edge of fear to his fathers voice when he talked about the basement.
He encountered it after his grandmother died, he had gone down there to figure out what needed to be tossed, donated or kept. Brian thought there would probably be some good stuff down there, stuff that family members would want. He had gone down with a pad of paper and a pen, though they were quickly forgotten about, left on a stack of boxes. He kept seeing something from the corner of his eyes, shadows he told himself, that was all. It was a strange shape, hunched and deformed but all too human. On his way back upstairs he brushed past the boxes and the pad fell to the ground. He picked it up and continued on his way. He was thirsty, tired and in need of a shower. Everything in the basement seemed to be covered with dust and grime, though there had been no mold so far, the basement was dry and cool.
In the kitchen he had placed the pad on the table while getting a glass of water, when he had finished he noticed that there was writing on the pad, small, cramped writing, almost spidery, “I’m so lonely down here.” The single sentence sent shivers across his body. He didn’t go back down there again. Instead they would pass notes to one another. Sliding the paper back and forth under the door. He didn’t get many answers from it, what ever it was. It had never been outside, nor did it know how old it was, though it had memories of the house being built over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Brian had tried to coax what ever it was from the basement itself, but it always refused to leave, finally in a fit of rage it hurled something through the door. It slammed against the wall behind him with a sickening squelch and fell to the floor, the smell of it was overwhelming, flooding the kitchen. The corpse of a cat lay on the floor, a trail of fallen maggots behind it. After that Brian kept the door locked.
He opened the house as a writing retreat a few weeks later, offering month long courses of solitude and creativity. The house was big, big enough to be a small hotel. People came faster than he expected, paying good money to stay out in the woods. The first person to leave was Denise, one morning the room was cleared out and there was no sign of her. Her sudden departure seemed to put people on edge, a few of her friends said they couldn’t get her on the phone. That didn’t surprise Brian, after all if she snuck away in the night why would she want to talk to them? With her gone it seemed to open the flood gates. Brian himself began to get irritable, he would shout and yell a lot. He didn’t mean to but he couldn’t control himself, they just made him so angry with their stupid, inane questions and comments.
He wouldn’t run the course again, not for a long time. He apparently had issues he needed to deal with, along with a lot of kinks he needed to iron out in the coursework itself.
Brian sat at the kitchen table, an untouched cup of coffee in front of him. He was ashamed at how he had acted, but he couldn’t bring himself to apologise to everyone. It was just too humiliating. The familiar sound of paper sliding across the flood distracted him from his thoughts. He stood and picked up the piece of paper from in front of the basement door. “I’m not lonely anymore. Thank you.” Brian’s heart started thudding heavily in his chest, the steady rush of blood was all he could hear. He quickly went to his office, he pulled out the registration forms and started working his way through them, ringing everyone. The numbers were either disconnected or he was told that he had the wrong number. Finally he reached Alicia, “Hello?”
“Hi, I’m looking for Alicia Jones?”
“This is Brian Smith, you recently attended my writing course?”
“uh, no sorry, I think you’ve the wrong Alicia.”
“It was last month? I have your registration forms in front of me”
“Sorry, I wasn’t in the country last month, I was visiting some relatives in London. Who ever it was must have given you the wrong details. Good luck finding them.” She hung up.
Brian put the phone down slowly. He felt sick. There was a noise from below, it took him a moment to place it. It was laughter. Thick and bubbling, it sounded as though there was a large group in the basement. Brian looked at the files spread in front of him. If he had to guess, he’d say there were exactly nineteen people down there with that thing. He shook his head, no they weren’t people, not anymore. No human could make that sound. Just as quickly as it came the laughter died.
Brian blocked off the basement door with the heavy kitchen table. He didn’t know what good it would do, but he didn’t want what ever was doing there coming out. Once that was done he left the house and got into his car. He didn’t look back. He was terrified that if he did he would see them all standing at the windows, looking out at him, calling for him to come back, to join them. He knew if he saw it, he wouldn’t be able to resist. He had asked his father years before, after his grandmother had forbid him from enetering the basement, why she stayed. His father looked at him for a moment, as though deciding what to say, “She tried to leave, many times. But something about the house always pulls her back.”