(The tale continues. It’s a rainy Friday morning, so much better for reading something scary. Enjoy.)
Chapter 4: Fatties
After tea, I got the wheelchair to the bathroom door. It was not big enough for the wheelchair to pass, so Grandma needed help from there. With her cane and a lot of my help, we got her to the toilet. She managed to relieve herself without any problems. She was in a great deal of pain from the simple effort of moving three or four feet to the toilet, though. I warmed up a wash cloth and helped her do a quick washing. I thought she was going to faint by the time that was finished and she returned to the wheelchair. On her request, I moved the chair into the living room and got her pill. She was taking shallow breaths and hardly moving, otherwise.
She took the pill with a little water. “The bucket,” she said tensely, before the pill started to take effect, “must not go down,” she cleared her throat a few times, “before ten o’clock. Promise me.”
“I promise, Grandma. It will be okay.”
“Good, now take the cross I wear around my neck, dear, and wear it.”
“But Grandpa gave that to you,” I said. “You always wear it.”
“I meant for you to have it, Alice,” she said with a quick clearing of her throat. “The Lord’s sign will give you strength. Say a little prayer while you’re in the storage, dear. You won’t be alone, then.”
“I will Grandma, I promise. Everything will be okay. Just rest now.” I was in caretaker mode, but my consolation was for both of us. I took her chain before she made a fuss. It was a simple chain with a small, silver cross hung on it. I had a hard time putting it on because of the tiny clasp, but it fit me.
Minute by minute, Grandma settled until she slept. Her mumblings were hard to understand, but had something to do with God and the storage. I tried not to think about what she was saying.
I made sure Grandma was comfortable before cleaning up from supper. Washing dishes and wiping the table felt like the most wonderful things in the world. I could have done it all night. Despite my efforts to drag out the experience, the time flew. The hands on the clock told me it was nine thirty.
What would I do in between then? It was the longest, scariest block of free time I’d ever spent. The day had been bad, true, but now I was standing on the edge of it, and running out of room. I tried my best to focus on what Grandma had said about never being hurt by the rats. It was small consolation to me, though; Grandma was a grown up and I was not.
At quarter after ten, I was a wreck. I had settled on a few points. I would be the best combination of quick and quiet I could be. Rats had tiny ears, so it stood to reason that stealth would be a huge factor. Also, once the bucket was in place, I would run back at full speed, at least to the elevator. Lastly, I would bring a small can of Raid. Nothing on the Raid can suggested it was useful against rats, but poison was poison, and a little bit in those red, icky eyes might be enough to save me.
I changed into my overalls. They were the denim ones I did my paper route and bottle collecting in. Crawling into ditches and bushes for empty bottles was dirty work, and the old, rugged overalls were perfect for the task. I stuffed the Raid into a side pocket where it bulged out but stayed covered. I made sure my new, silver cross hung on the outside of my shirt. It made sense that the cross would be more valuable if it was exposed; hopefully, having the same effect on rats as, say, vampires. I threw on some garden gloves and opened the fridge door. I hardly looked at the bucket as I lifted it out and closed the fridge. It was a little heavy, but I could handle it. A final check of the clock showed it was just after ten thirty. Ten o’clock was my bed time on school nights; I could usually get away with ten thirty, or maybe eleven on weekends. I wondered if I would be able to sleep, anyway.
I quickly checked the hall before walking to the elevator and pushing the call button. The building was very quiet at that hour; all the same, I didn’t want to explain myself to anyone. The elevator seemed to take forever. It arrived with a hum and the doors slid open to reveal the empty space inside. I got in and descended to the basement. I braced myself for the possibility of encountering someone, but the doors opened to the empty, basement hall. I wasted no time getting to the storage door. It loomed like a grey monster, scarier than Frankenstein or Dracula; it held back the terrible rats that were already causing me to tremble.
I fumbled with Grandma’s key ring. I had keys of my own, but was never given a copy of the storage key. It was a good thing Grandma labelled her keys with plastic tags. It felt like it would take forever, but I finally got the key out and into the lock. I had to jiggle the key around to make it turn. When it did, I pushed the door open and pulled the bucket in after me. The heavy door swung closed before I realised the storage lights were off. It was completely dark, too dark to see.
The moment of panic was harsh and terrible. Every rat and monster on the planet was bound to come running. How could they resist a terrified little girl in a dark basement?
If you can believe it, I was too scared to scream. I frantically pawed for the door handle, desperately trying to reopen it for some light. The tiny sliver of light from under the door was worthless and I was about to wet my pants, I was sure. My hand came across the light switch before it reached the handle, and the shock of the lights coming on was almost as bad as the shock from the darkness, except I could see what I was dealing with; and it wasn’t much better.
The storage area was scary. Even if I hadn’t been told about the rats, I would have suspected them; and much worse, too. The floor was cement, badly overdue for a sweeping. The outside walls were bare cinder block. The ceiling, in the places you could see it, was the same, plain concrete as the floor. A crisscross of pipes, valves, hoses and vents hung from the ceiling like a crazy, metal spider web. The storage units were the truly ominous part, however. They were cages made from thin slats of cheap wood, nailed together to create four by four spaces; each had a door made from the same slats that swung open on old hinges. Those wooden walls stood about six feet high, maybe more, and almost touched some of the pipes. A combination of chicken wire and boards had been used to cover off the tops of the units, and this blocked the light even more. The lighting was provided by a series of dusty bulbs hanging from the ceiling. They threw a very dim light; only the bulb at the entrance seemed properly bright.
Directly ahead was a small hall, formed by the outside wall on the right and a line of wooden storage units on the left. To the immediate left of the door was a tiny nook with a broom, dustpan, and shovel, all of which were covered in thick dust. The place was dirty and scary.
It took a moment to settle myself after the panic of being caught in the darkness. I picked up the bucket and started on my way. I did my best to be quiet and made good progress toward the end of the hall, where it turned to the left. The corner scared me; I knew the rats would be nearby, and the corner would be a great ambush point. The hall was too narrow for me to approach the corner and see all the way around it. I kept going forward and stopped right before the turn; deciding to pop my head around the corner for a quick look. I put the bucket down and took a deep breath, trying to be brave for Grandma. I carefully stuck my head past the corner of the storage unit to see a short length of hallway that ended in another left turn. I breathed again.
Something touched the back of my neck. It was a quick, light touch, but a touch. I let out a squeak and twisted around so fast that I bumped into the outside wall; I nearly fell, swatting at the back of my neck like it was on fire. Whatever had touched me must have been quick because I could not see it. Had it come from inside the storage unit? It was the closest thing to me and the gaps in the wood were more than wide enough for something to reach out, like a quick rat, perhaps. The air felt stuffy, all of a sudden, and it seemed as though I could not breathe fast enough. In those seconds of fright, I looked down at the floor to see something moving; it was too small to be a rat.
I leaned down to see a spider scurrying for the safety of the storage unit I had just been standing next to. It was a type of spider I recognised. In the spring, especially on humid days, we would get them on the balcony. Grandma really hated them and I usually let her handle their removal because they were icky. These spiders were a pale, fleshy colour with large abdomens and spindly legs. I shivered even though I was relieved it had not been a rat. I brought my foot down on the thing in an act of retribution for scaring me silly. Then, and I don’t know why, I looked up into the ceiling.
The light bulb hanging in the corner made it hard to see the ceiling clearly. I lifted my hand to block out the light bulb and see the ceiling in detail. I wished I hadn’t. The ceiling was more than just a spider web of pipes, tubes, hoses and wires. It was laced with webs, a lot of them; and there were more spiders perched up there than I would have thought existed in the whole world. If this wasn’t bad enough, many of those spiders were what Grandma would call fatties. They were great big ones with abdomens as wide as dimes; I had never seen so many fatties, and never thought they could get so big; they covered the ceiling for as far as I could see. The terror in that moment caused me to forget the little can of Raid I had brought along. I had my first, serious urge to run back.