Music Be The Food flash fiction continues on with the eighth round. This time the song is “Rising Sun”, by White Moth Black Butterfly. Listen to the song and then read the first piece of fiction, by R.N. Drum.
The Patience of Mr. Clay
The day started just like it always did with Jeff Kidd remembering how he found a body in the basement.
He had managed to sneak past his mother to go down and find the box of little racecars that his mother had taken away as punishment earlier that week. Jeff had been caught watching television in the living room at twelve-thirty in the morning and his mother had taken away his only obsession.
Jeff examined the shelves that lined the wall. He hadn’t dared turn the light on, since his mother would have seen that through the crack under the door, so he was stuck with the scant light that bled through a small dusty window. It didn’t take him long to spot the box with its red base and yellow lid, but it was on the top shelf, and he couldn’t reach it easily. He carefully stepped onto the bottom shelf and started to pull himself up, but immediately felt the shelf lean towards him. Instead, he stretched his arm as far as he could, his fingers straining to reach the box. He couldn’t grip it, and ended up pushing it further out of reach before stumbling down to the concrete floor. Jeff sat up on his knees and brushed dust away from his clothes. That’s when he saw them.
A pair of legs poking out from behind the furnace. Khaki pants and brown shoes. A repairman wouldn’t dress like that. Jeff had cautiously approached, barely managing to whisper “Hello?” before making it around the corner.
He could only make out the dark silhouette, but could see that the man was wedged between the furnace and the brick wall. He wasn’t moving. Jeff was startled when the furnace kicked on and the gas fire inside brightened. The light was enough to shine through the vent and what Jeff saw would never leave his mind.
The man’s hair was a crimson tangle, and his face was streaked with large, dry river beds of blood that had run down his neck and soaked into his shirt collar. The fire reflected and danced in his open eyes, making them seem as though they were moving, looking for someone who could help him.
He tried to scream but his throat failed him. Jeff’s feet, however, did not, and he ran up the stairs as quickly as he could, bursting through the door that opened to the kitchen. His mother, startled, knocked a skillet onto the floor, spilling hot bacon and grease.
“Jeffrey!” she hissed. “What were you doing down there?!” Her face twisted and she bared her teeth.
“There’s a ma…” Jeff pointed to the open basement door.
“There’s nothing! There’s nothing down there!” she struggled to keep her voice down. “Now go to your room and do not come out until I say so!”
Jeff ran across the living room and up the stairs up to his room, passing the house guest who was coming down for breakfast.
It was the only time he remembered seeing the body. It had taken Jeff several days to build up the courage to go down to the basement again and when he did, he found no trace of the body. Thirty years had passed since that day, and now Jeff had discovered a way to go back, to find out exactly what happened. It wasn’t like the movies or even books he had read over the years. There was no complicated machine, no rare crystals or exotic drugs and chants. Anyone could do it with three basic things: a water source (a faucet would do) a power source, such as a car battery, and an absolutely uncorrupted, specific memory of an event that could be consciously accessed.
In theory, the memory could be anything, but his research had suggested that the best source would be one that had been traumatic. Even though those memories could fade over the years, the proper conditions could bring them back as clear as if they had just happened the day before. He was in the process of writing a paper about his discovery that would outline the method to the world, but he needed an experiment first. What better experiment than to go back and find out why there was a body in the basement of his childhood home?
He made careful plans, and after a week of checking and re-checking his work, Jeff was ready.
Jeff woke up in guest room number two, just down the hall from his childhood room. He hated the nausea that greeted him each time he travelled, and he hoped that he would get used to it before too long. This was his third trip home, and he knew that borrowing time in this way meant that he would have to pay a price. He debated whether this time would be one in which he couldn’t hold back. He imagined throwing up on the bed, or maybe on the floor. The small trash basket by the equally small writing desk underneath the window wouldn’t hold anything. But, as usual, the sour backwash that swelled and threatened to breach his gut, one direction or another, faded after a few minutes.
He stepped out of the bed, careful not to move too quickly, and took a few small steps before he found his legs again. Jeff looked at himself in the small mirror by the door. He had grown a beard for this experiment, knowing that he couldn’t risk being recognized. That was unlikely, but he couldn’t take any chances. He was sure he had successfully established himself as a guest in the house. Jeff took a deep, steadying breath as he opened the door.
The hallway. Dark hardwood floor lined with fading, yellowed walls. The narrow stairwell that led to the first floor only feet from his door. The room he grew up in, with its bright red door, lay at the other end. He remembered the day they painted it. Mom had made a big breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, juice, and apple slices. They gorged themselves and then spent the rest of the morning cleaning the kitchen. All the while, mom was ranting and raving that she was going to start a bed and breakfast like Ms. Collier did over in Bedford, and that it would be just the best thing ever. He let the memory play out.
“We have two rooms that aren’t doing anything but getting dusty,” she said right before smacking her hand down on the counter, sending a puff of flour into the air. Jeff had just laughed and kept scrubbing the bacon pan.
“So why not?” she finished.
“Okay,” he said. Jeff might have only been ten years old at the time, but he was old enough to know that mom wasn’t really asking him. She was telling. He also knew that even though she seemed really happy now, it was only a matter of hours (or days, if he was lucky) before mom would be sad again. She wouldn’t be making breakfast then. She probably wouldn’t even want to come out of her room.
“Great!” she lifted her arms in victory. “So, what else do we do today? Let’s make it something crazy!”
What he really wanted to do was watch something on the television. He folded the hand towel over the oven handle and scurried out to the living room. The Saturday morning cartoons were finished and the only thing on TV would be westerns, and Jeff didn’t like westerns. He didn’t like guns. Mom had a gun. It had been his father’s. After he died a year ago, mom only occasionally checked to see if it had moved from its box on the top shelf of her bedroom closet. She was never disappointed. Jeff knew it was there and that he was never to touch it. He wondered sometimes if he would still be able to smell dad’s breath on the barrel.
Jeff started to head down the hallway before pausing to check his watch. The loud crash of skillet meeting floor came from downstairs. Right on time. Then came the pounding feet of the boy running up the narrow stairs. He passed Jeff, breathing hard and white as a sheet, and ran straight into his room, slamming the door behind him. Jeff remembered that day as if it had just happened. Because it did just happen, you idiot, he thought. Of course, there were details that were missing, lost in the blurred edges of the memory, and that worried him a bit. He didn’t remember slamming the door, and he was certain that the guest wasn’t upstairs in the hall, but rather at the kitchen table eating. He made some mental notes and then went down to the first floor.
The scent of freshly cut fruit and warm biscuits filled the air of the kitchen. There was also a slight haze of smoke from the frying bacon, which his mother was now cleaning off of the floor. When she saw Jeff approaching, she quickly sat up and closed the door to the basement.
“Good morning, Ms. Kidd,” Jeff said. He didn’t feel comfortable calling her Lily and didn’t dare call her ‘mom’. “Can I help?”
“Ah, good morning, Mr. Clay,” She gave the floor a final swipe with a towel to mop up the grease. “Just a little spill, and I’m all done, thank you.”
Jeff sat down at the kitchen table and took a sip from glass of orange juice that sat waiting for him.
“Thanks for the juice,” he said. He popped a slice of strawberry in his mouth.
“Fresh squeezed this morning,” Lily said. She had dumped the bacon into the trash bin and was starting to fry another batch.
Jeff eyed the basement door. Lily caught his gaze and her smile faltered, if only for a moment.
“Your son passed me on the stairs,” Jeff said in between bites of melon and biscuit. “Seemed to be in hurry.”
“Probably so,” Lily scooped the finished bacon onto a plate and brought it to the table. “I think he was looking for the chocolate I have hidden away in the basement and didn’t like getting caught red-handed.”
That was a lie. She never hid candy in the basement.
“Well, kids and candy,” Jeff smiled and scooped up some fruit onto his plate, unable to keep his eyes off of the basement door as he plotted how to get down there. “Looked like he had seen a ghost,” he chuckled. “Basements can be scary, I suppose.”
“Oh, I suppose,” Lily’s smile faded and she turned back to the countertop where she busied herself cutting more oranges.
“More juice?” She was already pushing a newly sliced orange into the heavy squeeze juicer. Jeff remembered how heavy the juicer had been and how hard it was to squeeze. His mother was stronger than she would otherwise appear.
“Yes, please,” Jeff was enjoying the meal. He had fond memories of his mother’s cooking. “I remember being terrified of my basement. Guess it was full of secrets,”
He was watching Lily closely and noticed that she paused for a moment before continuing to squeeze juice in the pitcher.
“And bugs, too, I’m sure.” he continued.
“Do you have children, Mr. Clay?” She brought the pitcher to the table.
“No, not yet,” he held up his empty left hand. “Need to find the right woman first.”
“Ah, every man ends up with his mother, you know.” Lily turned back to the counter and began wiping it clean.
“Every man is looking for a woman that is just like his mother,” she said. “It’s natural.”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Jeff reached for a biscuit. He was just starting to dip a knife into the jar of grape jam on the table when he heard the skillet slide off the stove top.
The day started just like it always did with Jeff Kidd remembering how he found two bodies in the basement.