“Finally an opportunity to snoop. Let’s not waste it.” The woman’s outlook soared. She wanted to inspect all of the Victorian’s nooks and niches, from bottom to top. Intent on an imperceptible target, her fool’s odyssey, Frieda took an eager stride. Flimsy boards caved, and she avalanched in a flurry of debris. Ancient cartons padded the landing. The female sat stunned. “Ouch. I really should listen to myself.” Her duff bruised, ignoring a quantity of discomforts, she pushed to her feet and stumped for the flashlight beneath a shelf, head earning a wallop in the process.
Skirring, like sandpaper. She trained a lucid puddle at brick walls. Marginal skulkings flirted with logic. Rats were ten times as feasible as ghosts, weren’t they? And usually less of a threat. But they gave her goosebumps.
The basement had brick columns and wood supports reinforcing it that didn’t appear very stable. Cement, later poured, went up to the brick stanchions; it had buckled, sporting cracks and ridges. Detritus still polluted the air, chuting down from an uneven brim. Frieda’s impulse was to find the stairs and bail before the rest of the house collapsed.
“I have to check.” She couldn’t squander a shot at untangling her dilemma. “Crazy or not.”
A chain clanked.
“Oh man. What was that?” A ghost. Curiosity fizzled. Being underground with a spirit seemed a thousand times more terrifying than what she had experienced above. “I can’t do it.” Acid scalded her esophagus. “I need to get out of here.”
She sped about, pursuing a beam through a labyrinth of bulky rubbish. The stairs eluded her until she came to them unexpectedly. On the fifth step a haggard poltergeist towered: the ghoul from the mirror.
“You have no right!” he reprimanded. “How dare you!”
Frieda’s eyes grew.
“Get off my property!” the bearded coot aggressed.
How could she? The man was blocking her escape! Frieda hyperventilated while he ranted.
“You people harass me to pay your tickets and taxes, all sorts of fees and penalties you concoct daily along with hundreds of rules. I survived a century and a year without those rules, so you can keep ’em!”
Frieda’s jaw flapped, soundless.
The wizened gaffer dismantled to pixels and motes of static. A sequence of disembodied faces conveyed “He — won’t — let — you — leave —”
A sultry ebon lady warbled, “Done my work the best I could. Only done if the sun sinks good. Can’t say you get tired, that’s the way to get fired. Can’t request a break, or the money they take. Kicked if you’re down, best to smile ’stead of frown. There is workin’ to be done, in the shade or the sun. I know that I could quit, and every day I dream of it.”
The soulful tenor hummed on after the woman in black disappeared. Dance partners in speakeasy glamour revolved like figures on a cuckoo clock. Macabre nightingales and pennywhistles trilled an elegy. A rhapsody of wails chimed in and swelled, baritone to falsetto. Their audience forgot to be afraid, mesmerized.
The ruckus quelled as if turned off by a switch. Frieda clamped her ears from the silence, chilled by its absoluteness.
She was there for a reason. An important one. Get on with it. She blinked at the ceiling; a wall of brick and mortar. The staircase was unrestricted. She willed herself to move, then heard an egregious clatter. A chain. It wasn’t a mere cliché. There was something chained in that cellar she did not wish to meet, yet she might have been chained herself. Extremities failed to cooperate. Then, herky-jerky, a marionette, she maneuvered through the subterranean space. Invisible cords severed and she sprawled.
Metallic chinking, not as distant, reminded her of a serpent uncoiling. The puppet sat up and guided her torch at a disconsolate wretch, a pitiful heathen shackled in an alcove. A child! She surrendered wariness. “Who did this?”
Odors made her stomach heave, causing her to backtrack. Nose and mouth covered with an arm, she edged forward.
A girl about twelve or thirteen swiveled in a humble frock as besmirched as her flesh. Squatting, the waif held up a palm to shelter an aspect semi-curtained by matted hair from the light.
“You poor thing,” whispered Frieda.
An eye stared at her. The girl dove with a snarl, chain unfurling. The links ran out and she was inhibited from grabbing, biting Frieda. She behaved like an abused mutt, thirsty and hungry, tied in a yard. The kid’s dirt-crusted ankle had been imprinted by an iron cuff.
“This is despicable.” Abducted or disciplined, secluded for the sake of the community, whatever the stimulus, no one deserved this. Frieda wanted to emancipate her. She couldn’t do it without assistance. And that would thwart her plan, curtailing a vital errand.
“If you could be patient, just a little longer . . . I could do what I have to, then muster the cavalry.” Her own conscience vetoed the proposal. “Okay. Bad idea. My problems can wait. You can’t.”
Straightening soldier-like, she fluttered a hand in farewell. “I’ll be back.”
The captive’s thrashing had suspended. Glittering eyes watched.
Frieda didn’t want to leave her. “I’ll get help, I swear.”
A mini-courtroom coalesced with the cellar, and the girl dimmed.
“No!” Fingers splayed, Frieda’s arm extended.
Honorable Judge Morpheus presided. A guy with bushy hair, sloppy clothing, and manacled wrists chained to an iron fixture in the floor was stationed before the Bench. “Has the defendant anything to barter for his life? Any valuables? Heirlooms, novelties, rarities, collections . . .”
“I ain’t got none of that! What have you done with my daughter?” The ornery man lunged, rattling his chain.
“Then you will need to answer, Mister Pritchett, not I . . . Is Annabeth savage because of the chain, or is the chain because she’s savage? Either way you shall hang. Your child will be orphaned, and has nothing to negotiate with as well. She is one of mine now.”
“If you’re taking her, that’s something valuable ain’t it?”
“You did not believe her so for thirteen years. You can’t increase her merit now. It’s too late.”
The gavel bludgeoned wood, affecting Frieda’s ears. The magistrate glared — directly at her. “In life there are two things, the living and the dying. Which side are you on?”
She panicked and hid, her body aligned with a brick pillar.
Fifteen or so minutes snailed by. The cellar was quiet.
Easing out, Frieda snuck column to column, then hurdled up stairs.
Purchase Leery Lane
About Lori R. Lopez
Lori R. Lopez wears many hats as an author, artist, poet, and songwriter. She dips her pen in Speculative Fiction, Horror, Fantasy, Dark and Humorous Verse, and much more. She is an artist, musician, actress, filmmaker, tree-hugger, vegan, and animal-lover. Lori unapologetically takes pride in creatively bending and reshaping the rules of writing when it suits her style.
Her books include THE DARK MISTER SNARK, THE STRANGE TAIL OF ODDZILLA, LEERY LANE, ODDS AND ENDS: A DARK COLLECTION, CHOCOLATE-COVERED EYES, THE MACABRE MIND OF LORI R. LOPEZ, AN ILL WIND BLOWS, THE FAIRY FLY, OUT-OF-MIND EXPERIENCES, DANCE OF THE CHUPACABRAS, POETIC REFLECTIONS I and II: KEEP THE HEART OF A CHILD and THE QUEEN OF HATS.
Stories and verse have appeared on Hellnotes, Servante Of Darkness, and Halloween Forevermore; in WEIRDBOOK, THE HORROR ZINE MAGAZINE, THE SIRENS CALL E-Zine, and anthologies such as JOURNALS OF HORROR: FOUND FICTION, DEAD HARVEST, HWA POETRY SHOWCASE VOLUMES II and III, TERROR TRAIN I and II, GREY MATTER MONSTERS: TAKERS OF SOULS, TOYS IN THE ATTIC: A COLLECTION OF EVIL PLAYTHINGS, CELLAR DOOR III: ANIMALS (Editor’s Choice Award winner), UNDEAD LEGACY, BONES II, GHOSTS: REVENGE, MIRAGES: TALES FROM AUTHORS OF THE MACABRE, MASTERS OF HORROR: DAMNED IF YOU DON’T, I BELIEVE IN WEREWOLVES, THIRSTY ARE THE DAMNED, and SCARE PACKAGE: 14 TALES OF TERROR. Fifteen of Lori’s poems were published for an anthology titled IN DARKNESS WE PLAY.